Monday, August 31, 2009

Mary Jo Kopechne

The sainthood of Ted Kennedy may be assured following the orchestrated respect the political class has paid him, but his involvement with the death of Mary Jo Kopechne should not be sentenced to the memory hole.

Her brief bio on Wikipedia reveals that she:

1. Was fond of political coercion herself, as channeled through the political activities of Robert Kennedy, then later as a member of "Matt Reese Associates, a Washington, D.C., firm that helped establish campaign headquarters and field offices for politicians and was one of the first political consulting firms."

2. Was a very bright young woman and a dedicated campaign worker. "Kopechne and the other staffers were politically savvy, and they were chosen for their clear heads and ability to work long hours under pressure on sensitive matters."

3. Was one of six so-called Boiler Room Girls, the name associated with the female staffers of Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. The other five appear to have had or are still having highly successful careers. "By mid-1969 she had completed work for a mayoral campaign in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was on her way to a successful professional career."

4. Did not have to die when she did. From the Wiki article:
On July 18, 1969, Kopechne attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, held in honor of the Boiler Room Girls. It was the fourth such reunion of the Robert Kennedy campaign workers.

Kopechne reportedly left the party at 11:15 p.m. with Robert's brother Ted Kennedy, after he — according to his own account — offered to drive her to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown, where she was staying. She did not tell her close friends at the party that she was leaving and she left her purse and keys behind.

Kennedy drove the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off a narrow, unlit bridge without guardrails that was not on the route to Edgartown and it overturned in the water. Kennedy extricated himself from the vehicle and survived, but Kopechne remained in the vehicle and was found dead.

Kennedy failed to report the incident to the authorities until the car and Kopechne's body were discovered the next morning. Kopechne's parents said that they learned of their daughter's death from Ted Kennedy himself before he reported his involvement to the authorities, but that they learned Kennedy had been the driver only from wire press releases some time later. . . .

A week after the incident, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury. He received a two month suspended sentence. On a national television broadcast that night, Kennedy later said he was not driving under the influence of alcohol nor had he engaged in any immoral conduct with Kopechne.

The Chappaquiddick incident and the death of Kopechne became grist for at least fifteen books, as well as a fictionalized treatment by Joyce Carol Oates. Questions remained about Kennedy's timeline of events that night, about his actions after the incident, and the quality of the investigation and whether official deference was given to a powerful politician and family.
And this from David Galland, Managing Director of Casey Research:
My issue emanates from a stop some years ago by the side of the road in Martha’s Vineyard. On the island for a vacation, I took the short detour to see the site of Kennedy’s infamous accident at the bridge to Chappaquiddick. Getting out of the car, I vividly remember my first impression.

“This is it? That’s where Kennedy’s car went in?”

The thing is that the canal is narrow and shallow. I’ll give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt that he was disoriented – massive quantities of alcohol will do that to a guy – but I won’t give him anything toward his contention that he couldn’t have taken more active measures to save Mary Jo Kopechne’s life.

Any reasonably strong swimmer – which I assume he was, having grown up on the water – could have made the shallow dive necessary to get her out. But even if he was too drunk or scared to pull that off, he could have quickly found the help needed to get her out before the air bubble in the car was exhausted and she drowned. Instead, walking by a fire station and a private house, stopping at neither to request help, he trod a circuitous path to his hotel, where, after changing into dry clothes and lamely trying to establish an alibi by visiting the front desk to complain of a loud party, he turned in.

It was only nine hours after driving off the bridge, and after a local fisherman had discovered the car, that Kennedy finally reported the accident.

This is, of course, all part of the historical record – an interesting part of which you can read by following the link below to the FBI files on the accident, made available thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request.

But I will never forget my visceral reaction to the sight of that small and shallow channel, the certain knowledge that Ted Kennedy was a sociopath, a coward, and a cretin, who made every possible move to rescue his political career and almost none to save the life of a young woman.

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