The XX Factor

Would Teddy Be Forgiven For Chappaquiddick Today?

Hanna, I like your Kopechne-based theory on why Ted Kennedy devoted his Senate years to public service, particularly for the disenfranchised. As the press releases from women’s organizations filling up my inbox will have you know, many of Teddy’s triumphs were on behalf of our gender: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, among many many others.

But no one denies that Chappaquiddick was a truly deplorable incident, and the question percolating around the office is whether or not a modern political career would be able to survive such a public and legal trainwreck. The overwhelming feeling is that it would not, because the current media and social climate would not allow it. While it is true that we have far less trust in our politicians than we did 40 years ago, I think this is less an issue of when than who : No other politician’s career would have been able to surive that, even back then. After what that family had been through in the ‘60s, Teddy had an enormous amount of public good will, particularly in Massachusetts. No non-Kennedy would have been forgiven.

Photograph of a ferry near Chappaquiddick Island by Win McNamee/Getty Images.