Perhaps the most interesting thing about the new film, Chappaquiddick, is that it was even made at all.
This movie, which is in theaters locally, tells of the incident back in 1969 when U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy drove a car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard with a young woman staffer riding with him. Kennedy survived. She died.
Ted Kennedy was the fourth of four boys born to Joe and Rose Kennedy. By then, he had been elected to his second term in the U.S. Senate, having entered that body at the minimum age of 30 – filling the “Kennedy seat.”
His father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., had always determined that one of his sons would be President of the United States. The oldest, Joe Jr., had been groomed for such. But he was killed in World War II when his bomber exploded in August 1944.
This film does not sensationalize the Chappaquiddick incident, if anything, it is a serious and sober dramatization. Ted is not vilified. The victim, Mary Jo Kopechne, is not glorified. Indeed, no romantic connection is asserted, a widely held view for many years.
What is known about Ted Kennedy, of course, is that he was a womanizer. Much of this is known from the years subsequent to 1969, of course. However, that did not preclude him from becoming the leader of liberal Senate Democrats.
After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 followed by the assassination of the third brother, Bobby, in 1968, it was widely assumed that Ted would run for and be elected president in some future year. That was never to be, not even close. In fact, the year when he did make a try, 1980, it seemed that every magazine and newspaper editor in North America found a Chappaquiddick article in their desk drawer, and brought it out to print. End of candidacy.
All of which makes it so interesting that this film was ever made. Hollywood is notorious for being dominated by the liberal/progressive left. Various anti-conservative films have been made over the years. But none, until now, holding up the sexual vicissitudes of Democratic politicians.
It represents quite a statement in these times when the great chorus is excoriating President Trump for his various escapades, real or imagined. President Trump denies them. But not many believe the denial. On the other hand, all occurred some years ago, 10 or more. We hear “Stormy Daniels,” but we don’t know whether to believe her. We hear a Playboy bunny but we don’t know much about that, either.
What we do know is that Ted Kennedy fled the scene of an accident and didn’t report what turned out to be Miss Kopechne’s death for 10 hours. Most people would be charged with, at least, manslaughter in such a case. Kennedy was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and sentenced to two months in jail, suspended. He may have paid some fine his family could easily afford.
Which leads us to the point of his interesting juxtaposition. That is the liberals/progressives are in full scream about what it is or was that President Trump did or said – that a decade or more ago. But not a peep about what a series of Democratic presidents and senators have done.
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Times were different. No one in the press ever printed how completely disabled Roosevelt was from the polio had had contracted in 1921. He was almost completely paralyzed from the waist down. He could walk a few steps with huge braces on his legs. Otherwise, he was always seated. And pictured seated. What also was not publicized was his years-long affair with Lucy Mercer. This affair lasted, off and on, from the teens until Roosevelt’s death in 1945. It is widely believed these days that the Roosevelts ceased conjugal relations in the 1920s at the latest.
John F. Kennedy. Again, some knowledge of Kennedy’s serial affairs, many of them right in the White House, must have been apparent to reporters of the time. But back then, we didn’t ordinarily print such stuff. One affair was with Marilyn Monroe. Another was Judy Campbell Exner, who had ties with Mafia types. What a scandal in the making, but, of course, Kennedy died first. There were others, probably quite a few. Jack Kennedy did not believe in monogamy.
Lyndon B. Johnson. It seems less likely that Johnson continued his various affairs in the White House. However, Johnson’s definitive biographer, Robert Caro, chronicles several in the first of his four volumes on Johnson, “The Path to Power,” which discusses Johnson’s early political career in Congress.
Bill Clinton. Even during the 1992 campaign, Bill and Hillary Clinton had to go on TV and affirm their marriage. The stories of various liaisons while Clinton was governor of Arkansas were widely known and believed. However, Democratic voters didn’t care. And as we know, Bill Clinton was and is one of the most gifted pure politicians in recent memory. Nonetheless, his affairs with Monica Lewinsky, then a White House intern, nearly brought him down. He was impeached by the House of Representatives, but the charges failed in the Senate.
That’s four out of seven in the last 100 years.
On the other hand, we have had 10 Republican presidents in the same era: Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge. Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and now Trump. That’s one out of 10. Or two depending on what you think of Harding.
With the exception of Harding, who died two years into office, none of these men has been accused of having an affair while president. True, a couple may have earlier, such as Ike with his jeep driver in Europe and Reagan after he divorced Jane Wyman when he was still a film star in Hollywood, before he married Nancy. But not in the White House.
You be the judge.
Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach. Beveridgere@prodigy.net.