The XX Factor

Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne and Us

Google Trends this morning is a perfect window into our tabloid culture and the recesses of our depraved minds. While the papers are full of words like “dynasty” and “legacy,” Mary Jo Kopechne, according to Google Hot Trends, is uppermost in our thoughts. Her name comes up as number one in the ranking, and several more places on the list, misspelled. Chappaquiddick shows up high and often, too; once correctly, and then in several illiterate incarnations.

Partly, I blame this discrepancy on the American papers, which are still bent on hagiography. I prefer British obituaries, which tell it like it is. And partly, of course, this is the fault of our vapid tabloid culture. The only surprise today is that Kate Gosselin has been knocked back all the way to number 30. “Michael Jackson alive” is a popular trend. Yeah. Jamming with Elvis.

Finally, there is the issue of the obvious narrative the papers are not stringing together. In my mind, I’ve always equated Ted Kennedy with Chuck Colson, the disgraced Nixon aide who went on to found an admirable Christian organization called “Prison Fellowship.” Public officials who do terrible things and then say they’re sorry (often in a press conference or book) are a dime a dozen. But the ones who do something terrible and then repent indirectly in the form of a lifetime of dedicated public service are rare. Colson and Kennedy are just about the only two I can think of.

Mary Jo Kopechne is on our minds because this narrative about Ted Kennedy makes sense, in some intuitive, appealing way. Kennedy killed a girl. That’s his Rosebud. He made up for it partly by declining the ultimate glory of running for president, and choosing the more humble path-helping the underclass using the slow, steady machinery of the Senate.