When Edward M. Kennedy won Massachusetts’ senatorial race in 1962, one of his brothers was the U.S. Attorney General and the other was president. At the time, his opponents discounted Edward’s success, claiming he only won because of family connections. The Post, which would never be accused of supporting Edward Kennedy, was unusually snide about his first senate victory.
“Well, Teddy won the Democratic nomination for the Senate, and we suppose that is all that matters in many minds. The voters of Massachusetts, to paraphrase a close relative of Teddy’s, have made their judgment, and who can question the wisdom of the Democratic voters? Let us now close ranks, rally round the flag, remember Pearl Harbor and accept the verdict of the highest judge. As far as we are concerned, the voters of Massachusetts made a mistake. They picked a charming, handsome, golden-voice youngster with a name—a man who is unqualified for such an exalted office.”
It was the beginning of a steady stream of criticism leveled at Edward Kennedy over the years. He was belittled for his family connections, his good looks, his privileged upbringing, and, of course, for several occasions of bad judgment as an adult.
Such things could be forgiven. Other senators had done worse and outlived the scandal.
What was unforgivable to Kennedy’s opponents was his unflinching fidelity to liberal causes. He never toyed with conservatism, or waffled to attract uncommitted voters. The people of Massachusetts knew where he stood and returned him to Washington nine times, personal traits and all.
He was an idealist, but he was also an adept politician. During his tenure, he authored more than 300 bills that passed the Senate—a feat he couldn’t have accomplished without gaining the support of many of his opponents. Nor did he choose popular legislation. Senator Kennedy promoted campaign-finance reform and AIDS research. He opposed illegal interventions in Central America and apartheid in South Africa. He backed The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the COBRA plan to extend health insurance to the unemployed.
In 1967 he wrote an article for the Post, detailing his ideas for reducing crime. It is a good illustration of his thoughts on public policy.
“Consider, for example, the very special problem of drug addiction. For far too long we have treated addicts as if they were ordinary criminals, rather than victims of a serious disease. … Following California’s pioneer program initiated in 1961, Congress passed legislation last session which would permit addicts in federal cases to be placed under medical treatment rather than sent to prison. Because about half of those committed under the California program have subsequently returned to their communities and have not gone back to narcotics, there is good reason to believe that this federal program will return many addicts to a normal life.
“An equally significant part of any anti-crime program, I feel, must be legislation to control the sale of firearms. Our Senate Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee heard testimony indicating overwhelmingly that the present mail-order business in guns makes it ridiculously easy for juveniles, criminals, even lunatics to obtain firearms for less than the price of a pair of shoes. I know of no other country where it is as easy for dangerous and misguided members of society to obtain firearms as it is in the U.S. Each year about a million weapons are sold by mail order, thousands to persons with criminal records. J. Edgar Hoover has stated that the ‘easy accessibility of firearms is a significant factor in the murders committed in the United States today.’ Nothing could testify more vividly to the truth of this warning than the example of Charles Joseph Whitman, who stood on top of the Texas University tower one horrible day last summer and shot 15 people to death, wounding 31 others. [At the time Senator Kennedy wrote this, only one of his brothers had been shot to death.]
“If we are seriously concerned about crime, we must acknowledge our responsibility to do something about the crumbling slum schools and poor housing, and the shocking unemployment rates for the young Negroes, Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans. Indeed, with crime most prevalent among young people, every community must focus special attention on its youth, particularly the disadvantaged. Today’s delinquents will be tomorrow’s criminals—unless the community, through education, job training and treatment programs, prepares these youngsters for the productive tasks of adulthood. Most of us who share in the good life of our rich nation are law-abiding citizens. The promise of America is that someday all may share. In our work to fulfill that promise lies one of our most effective weapons against crime.”
If Senator Kennedy reread this 1967 article last week, he would find nothing to rewrite or regret. He remained unapologetically, unwaveringly liberal through the years. Even when it wasn’t convenient or politically correct, he stayed committed to an idea of humanitarian democracy.
Download “A Plan of Action” (PDF) by Sen. Edward Kennedy, 1967.