The First Draft: Teddy’s Life of Remorse and Atonement

September 3, 2009

Oswald was the lone assassin. JFK wanted a way out of Vietnam. And Bobby’s death brought a bout of self-destructive drinking around the time Mary Jo Kopechne died at Chappaquiddick Island in an “inexcusable” car accident.

Those are some of the insights in a forthcoming memoir by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died last week but lives again in print as a leading figure in American politics.

In the book, “True Compass,” which Teddy completed while suffering from the brain cancer that claimed his life, he admits “terrible decisions” at Chappaquiddick in 1969 and says those events may have shortened the life of his father, Joe. KENNEDY

Teddy hardly knew Kopechne, who had been a young aide to Bobby, and was not romantically involved with her.

But after driving off a Chappaquiddick bridge with her as a passenger, he was dazed, afraid and panicked. He left the scene and didn’t report the accident until her body was discovered inside the car a day later.

The New York Times, which obtained an advance copy of the memoir, says Chappaquiddick occurred at a time when Teddy regretfully recalls “self-destructive” drinking in the aftermath of Bobby’s 1968 assassination.

“Some people make mistakes and try to learn from them and do better. Our sins don’t define the whole picture of who we are,” he wrote.

Teddy says in the memoir that he always accepted the official finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman responsible for JFK’s assassination.

Bobby grieved so deeply over the fate of the president that the Kennedy family feared for his emotional health, which Teddy wrote “veered close to being a tragedy within a tragedy.”

Teddy also reveals that JFK had become increasingly uneasy about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and was increasingly convinced the conflict couldn’t be solved militarily.

Teddy surmises that JFK was “on his way to finding that way out” but “he just never got the chance.”

Bobby offered to negotiate a peace deal with Vietnam in secret 1967 meeting with LBJ. That might have kept Bobby from running for president a year later. But LBJ suspected Bobby of ulterior motives and declined the offer.

Compared with his older brothers’ accomplishments, Teddy wrote that “it sometimes has occurred to me that my entire life has been a constant state of catching up.”

Chappaquiddick is not the only personal failing Teddy confronts openly in the book, describing atonement as a never-ending process.

“I have enjoyed the company of women. I have enjoyed a stiff drink or two or three, and I’ve relished the smooth taste of a good wine. At times, I’ve enjoyed these pleasures too much. I’ve heard the tales about my exploits as a hell-raiser — some accurate, some with a wisp of truth to them and some so outrageous that I can’t imagine how anyone could really believe them,” Teddy wrote.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Sen. Edward Kennedy)


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Death bed remorse is always good for the soul but, as with others, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for the public.

Ted was no saint and he stained the Kennedy name and assisted in making a mockery of the US and the Senate.

I hope he made a good confession, may God forgive him.
It will be tough for me to do so.

Posted by Lalo Tejeda | Report as abusive

How many lives did Teddy ruin in his ignimonious life?

Posted by Mcoker | Report as abusive

It is to bad about his brothers but that never excuses murder. To many drinks never excuses murder. Feeling low and or down and out does not excuse murder. To bad he could not come out with the truth before he died, but who would expect Teddy to tell the truth.

Posted by Dave Horwath | Report as abusive

A lying Liberal to the end self absorbed to RIP Mary Jo

Posted by ernie t | Report as abusive

I wonder how of Kennedy’s offers to Yuri Andropov will be covered in the memoir. Did he come clean about asking the Soviet Union to help the Democrats in the 1984 election? Or offering the Soviets secrets that would help them in negotiations with the US?

Posted by Who is Good Will | Report as abusive

The book should be an interesting read. He’s right, “our sins don’t define the whole picture of who we are.” Certainly fighting for the working class all his life is his most defining characteristic. God bless…

Posted by Claire | Report as abusive

It was not murder – it was a tragic accident. He paid for it much more than any layman and he did the public work of thousands. He admits his wrongs and spent a lifetime atoning. Do those of you judging know what it is like to have your family commit their lives to public service only to have two members gunned down? No you don’t so how can you assume you know his pain. Liberal is not a dirty word by the way – look it up in the dictionary. Liberal applies to all great figures in history that effected real change for masses of people. Where does that leave your ilk?

Posted by LMitchell | Report as abusive

Ted Kennedy’s actions after Chappaquiddick were so bizarre, reprehensible and inexplicable that this chapter will have to remain the defining chapter of his life. Leaving the scene of the accident, going to a hotel to sleep it off (probably an attempt at an alibi), looking for somebody else to take the blame (one of his cousins) and calling in JFK’s senior advisers to craft a politically-expedient public statement are not the responses that a moral and decent person would have made.

His subsequent examples of bad behavior do not lend credence to his claims of atonement.

Posted by cclusn | Report as abusive

The level of animosity toward Teddy is incredible. He acknowledges his defects of character and failing, and Ted haters become even more enraged. I believe the comments to date are a commentary on the angry and hateful state of many Americans. God bless America.

Posted by George White | Report as abusive

I agree with the late Senator; it was “inexcusable.” And I never have. The more accurate term for the incident is vehicular homicide.

He killed her and got off free because he was a Kennedy either riding on the coattails of his brothers or the nation wasn’t prepared to complete the tragic trifecta.

The deification this killer is saddening but provides an excellent education in spin, revisionist history, and cultural denial.

Posted by JC | Report as abusive

Of course, my comment about the Kennedy/Andropov feelers should read “I wonder if”, not “how of.”

/Shakes his tiny fist at the lack of a preview feature.

Posted by Who is Good Will | Report as abusive

let he who has not sinned throw the first stone…. you didnt hang on a cross for his sins, Christ did. its not your place to judge him or forgive him.

Posted by JP | Report as abusive