What is Ted Kennedy thinking about now?

I often ponder what the afterlife will be like.  Personally, I think it will include a life’s review of some kind.  I wonder what that review will be like for Ted Kennedy.

Note to Ted Kennedy lovers:  I don’t agree with Ted Kennedy politically, and I think he was a pretty bad person, all in all.  But I don’t know his soul — God does.  Ulimately, Ted Kennedy will be judged by somebody with a lot more knowledge and capacity for love than I have, and I’m very glad of that, because the same thing will apply to me and all my flaws.  My purpose here is to remind some readers of some of the things I remember from his life.  Many of them will be negative, so if that’s going to bother you, my suggestion is to read something else.

I saw Ted Kennedy speak once.  This was after his failed presidential bid in 1980, and he was traveling the country in preparation for an expected 1984 run.  He spoke near the Stanford campus where I was going to school.  The speech was not memorable except for one thing:  half the audience left about half-way through, including me and my roommate, who both were Kennedy fans back then, but we couldn’t stand the sight of him stumbling and fumbling and rambling through a speech.  He was almost certainly drunk that night, based on his behavior.

In those days, I thought Kennedy was the solution to the waffling Carter wing of the Democratic party.  I also had a lot of respect for Jesse Jackson, who I saw give an incredible speech at Stanford in 1983.  It still was one of the best speeches I have ever heard.  Of course, in retrospect I can’t believe I ever thought Jesse Jackson would have made a good president, but he sure did give a nice speech.

I didn’t think much about Ted Kennedy again until sometime in the 1980s, when I heard about the infamous “waitress sandwich” incident with Sen. Chris Dodd.  (This incident happened in 1985, but I didn’t hear about it until later).   To summarize, according to various reports, Dodd and Kennedy were drinking together in a Washington restaurant, when Kennedy took a waitress and threw her on top of Dodd, who was sitting on a chair.  Then Kennedy got on top.  The woman ran from the room screaming.   How’s that for supporting women’s rights?

Then, I thought about Ted Kennedy again during the infamous William Kennedy Smith trial.  I was living in Miami at the time, and the coverage was pretty much non-stop.  The whole date rape thing started when Sen. Kennedy rousted his nephew out of bed to go drinking.  William Kennedy Smith picked up a babe, brought her back to the Kennedy mansion in Palm Beach, and then later on she claimed she was raped.  But if Ted Kennedy had let his nephew sleep, it never would have happened.  But the senator needed a drinking buddy.

Ted Kennedy was almost surely with another group of drinking buddies before he drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, resulting in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.   Much has been written about this, I’m not sure I can add anything, except to point out that there is a clear pattern of behavior here.

Regarding politics, there is very little with which I agree with the former senator.  I did favor the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill, and I continue to favor something similar to it to help legalize the millions of immigrants in the U.S.  But Kennedy’s politics usually hurt the people he is supposedly trying to help — his support for higher taxes primarily hurts the poor because they result in slower economic growth and fewer jobs, his support for a higher minimum wage hurts the working poor because companies higher fewer people, his support for organized labor means a small group of people get higher wages and great benefits at the expense of millions of other working people, and on and on.

But unlike many others, I don’t question Ted Kennedy’s sincerity on political issues.  I think he really does believe many of his policies really do help people.  And I think the Lord judges people for their intentions as well as their results.

I also believe that people can change, and I believe some of that redemption can take place in the spirit world.  To paraphrase the great John Newton, I personally am a very great sinner, and I know that Christ is a very great savior.  Ted Kennedy was a very great sinner, and an often awful politician, but he is a son of God and capable of redemption, perhaps even more than I.  So, I wish him well, and I hope right now he is with his family members and learning more about the Gospel and moving forward and upward.  It would be a very nice thing to meet him some day and compare notes.  I’m sure he will have things to teach me.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

44 thoughts on “What is Ted Kennedy thinking about now?

  1. Nice post Geoff. You have the right attitude, but if I were the Kopechnes, I would think of him in another, not so nice, place.

  2. Chris,

    Personally, I see no honor in not speaking ill of the dead. Ted Kennedy was a drunk and a serial womanizer, and only escaped prosecution for manslaughter because of his status and connections. The fact that he is being lionized by so many right now doesn’t change any of that.

  3. Chris H, some friendly advice: you really need to separate out the personal stuff from the political. Just because somebody disagrees with you does not mean he or she is a bad person or unworthy of your respect. I have all kinds of friends (including you) with whom I disagree politically, but we can still be friends in other spheres. You think Ted Kennedy was a great force in politics — I disagree. No biggee really because we see the world differently, have had different life experiences that form our opinions and have come to different conclusions. I don’t question your sincerity — I truly believe you are trying to make the world a better place, but I disagree with your methods. As I say above, intentions count in the big picture.

  4. Whenever I read posts like yours I am reminded of a comment someone made in Gospel Doctrine class a few yeas ago in the middle of the Clinton impeachment trial. We had been discussing David from the Old Testament and the instructor asked what we could learn from David. One brother spoke up and said we could learn that most great men (and women) are flawed and full of contradictions. Yes, Kennedy had a history of bad behavior — who growing up in his dysfunctional family would not? — but he compiled a record of accomplishment in the United States Senate that is unrivaled among living senators. If he is as terrible as many Mormons think, why is Orrin Hatch speaking at his service?

  5. Sam, good point. It is worth pointing out that his fellow senators mostly admired and loved Sen. Kennedy. That has to count for something. I also agree with you that all people are neither all bad or all good — we are all a mixture of the two.

  6. Sen. Kennedy was an unimaginably rich man who spent his entire career doing his very best, working very long hours to help the poor; to lessen the burden on those struggling, to make the world a better place. Shame on him.

  7. @djinn


    There is a bridge that testifies of a far different man who squandered and wasted his potential so that he might avoid the consequences of his impropriety and indiscretion. A lifetime of achievement does little to wash away so great a sin as taking the life of another.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe his intentions to help people were pure. No doubt about it. But if only he had not lied, cheated and avoided responsibility for his actions, imagine what a great life he could have lead.

    Revisionists will always keep onions in there handkerchiefs and mourn the loss of such men as Ted Kennedy. I will save my onion for someone else.

  8. I’m honestly curious about the claim that we should not speak poorly of the recently deceased. One of the point of studying famous people is to learn from their lives and how they lived them. Intellectual exercise: should nothing negative be written about Hitler, Stalin or Mao? How about Fidel or Raul or Chavez? Obviously, a biography that turned these main into saints for the sake of not speaking ill of the recently dead would be dishonest and certainly incomplete. Hitchens made a lot of people angry by writing negative things about Mother Theresa, but by historical standards his contributions will be important.

    Ted Kennedy is somewhere in between Mother Theresa and the other names I mentioned. I truly believe he had good intentions in many policy areas, but I also believe the actions in his private life were embarrassing and not laudatory (at best). At worst, he was guilty of manslaughter and certainly adultery. I also saw no evidence in his life of repentance — as I say in the post, only God knows his heart, but his later actions show a man acting like a frat boy well past middle age.

    So, should any consideration of Ted Kennedy be completely positive? Given what I know of his life, certainly not. Anybody reading this will have read all of the tributes, and for many people those are the important things to remember. For me, the things I have learned from Ted Kennedy’s life were different, and I chose to share them. The right time to share them was right after his death.

  9. It is also interesting that TT, Chris H and Jjohnsen have chosen to attack the writer rather than the ideas expressed. Any debater knows that’s a sign of a bad debating position, and a sign that the ideas themselves are pretty incontrovertible.

  10. Wow Geoff, you really touched a nerve with this one.

    I’d be a bit careful saying that a man’s intentions mitigate the results of his actions. Evil results with the best of intentions are still evil. Before I get jumped on, this comment is not directed at Kennedy, but at other historical figures. A man is responsible not just for his intentions but for evaluating the results of his efforts and determining their worth. This is the only way to improve.

    As for Ted Kennedy, I generally disagreed with him politically. I’m too young to remember many of his scandals (Reagan II is the first president I can remember well), but I wish him the best of luck in the spirit world. I hope for our sake and our Heavenly Father’s sake that the Celestial kingdom in crowded with repentant sinners of all kinds.

  11. Brian….ummm…. can we have bad opinions of Subway and Quiznos or is that heresy too? Cuz honestly, they’re sandwiches are to real sandwiches as fast food burgers are to real burgers. If you don’t believe me, come visit Vermont sometime and I’ll take you for a real sandwich.

  12. @Doug D.

    I am always open to good food! 😉 To understand my remark about Quiznos and Subway, you would have had to have read the latest post at Mormonmentality.org (the one Chris H. linked to above–thanks Chris!!). Honestly, I prefer Jason’s Deli and/or Dilly’s Deli. Dilly’s Deli is a local Phoenix deli that has the best sandwiches and hot soup served in bread bowls.

  13. I have no problem with us discussing Ted Kennedy right now, as everyone is reminiscing about him. In fact, much of the media is either adoring at his coffin or constantly reminding us of Chappaquiddick. I would have a problem with someone focusing on only one or the other. Geoff gave a very fair balance.

    As with most individuals, Ted Kennedy had both strengths and flaws. We do not do justice to a person to make a caricature out of them. LDS did that for a long time with Joseph Smith, making his “history” seem like he was infallible and walked on water. It did not serve the Prophet to do so.

    And we do not do Ted any favors by pretending he hasn’t done some bad things in the past, or made some bad choices. He learned from many of his bad choices, becoming sober since marrying Vicki in 1992, and no longer being the party goer that everyone talked about in whispers. Perhaps if Teddy can change, so can others.

    I do not agree with his politics, either. But I do recognize one thing I have in common with Ted Kennedy. We are both sons of God.

  14. @Brian

    I believe it is Boar’s Head meat, correct? And if you have fresh bread and Boar’s Head meat at a local deli in Phoenix then you might be in contention for a good sandwich. Boar’s Head deli meats are very good, that with a nice homemade grinder roll and lots of fresh veggies. Thing is, they have to be big enough to share or if you eat it solo it should fill you for two meals. Mmmm…. New Englander / Northeasterners take sandwiches seriously. One thing I really missed out west.


    Do you mean Bed Head Bernie? (Look at his hair and tell me it’s not an appropriate nickname). He does keep things interesting. He and I are pretty far apart on the political scale, but judging from your postings I think you might like VT politically. Perhaps you should look for a teaching job at one of the colleges here: University of Vermont, Champlain College, or St. Michael’s College could offer you opportunities. I think I saw somewhere that you teach at BYU-I in Rexburg. We’re actually considering a move to IF.

  15. @Doug D.

    Yes, Boar’s Head meat, good stuff!! I’m assisting with a DUI Taskforce next Friday night and am planning a visit to Dilly’s Deli before the fun begins. Drive hammered, get nailed!! 😉

  16. Doug,

    I have actually applied to Goddard. Didn’t get it, though.

    Bernie Sanders is by far my favorite memeber of the Senate (both in policy and style), though I really like Leahy as well.

    I did teach at BYU-I for three years. I am teaching elsewhere this year. IF is a nice place.

    My wife’s roommate when we met at Ricks in the late 1990s was from Vermont and lives there now (her maiden name was Cummings). When we lived in upstate New York, we ventured out there once. We fell in love with the setting. I think it is what I need: small towns and liberals.

  17. Hatch speaking a Teds’ services doesn’t justify anything because I think Hatch is a boob in his Senatorial duties. One Mormons’ actions doesn’t represent the Church or all of its’ members. I know they were friends but still Ted was Ted and Bro. Hatch is still a mediocre Senator at best. To suggest that Bro. Hatchs’ words justify Ted, that is really lame. IMO, Ted worked hard at certain causes to try and get the public to forget his past and be forgiven without asking for it or facing the the music.

  18. @Chris

    I know some Cummings here in Burlington. Probably the same ones if LDS and from VT, small world. Where did you live in upstate NY? I’m from Glens Falls originally it’s about an hour north of Albany.

    Goddard, you’re a brave man. You could try Johnson State college too, especially if you like small towns. There is a military school here too, the name escapes me right now, but I doubt that would fit your style. What do you teach?

    I’m guessing the photo is not of you if you were in college in the late 1990s, unless you returned after doing something else, that makes you younger than me. :O)

  19. Jjohnsen, you have made your point well and cogently. I just don’t agree that discussing the warts of a public figure like Ted Kennedy is off-limits. As for your ETB comparison, it definitely happens all over the bloggernacle already. I can’t tell u how many times I’ve seen disparaging remarks about ETB because of his politics. Let’s take another example – when George W Bush dies are you not going to want to hear about the early drinking and partying days and about katrina, guantanamo and abu graib? Of course you are, and so am I. Anything without that would be a whitewash.

    So I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this issue.

    Btw, I have not heard very many people mentioning the waitress sandwich and wm kennedy smith incidents (and part of my post was a personal remembrance) so I do think my comments had something new to add.

    Rameumpton, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  20. My home teacher told the story of how they were both students at the University of Virgina Law School, and after a night of drinking, Kennedy hid under the instrument panel of the car with his open bottle of booze to avoid being recognized.

  21. For a couple of worthwhile reads on Kennedy’s life and legacy that offer no apologies for the terrible and tragic aspects of Kennedy’s life but come to radically different conclusions that Geoff does, see here and here.

    I find it especially interesting that whereas Brian Duffin comes to the conclusion that “A lifetime of achievement does little to wash away so great a sin as taking the life of another,” these two folks (especially the first link) takes a different view: “Apologies don’t matter when it comes to taking a life; forgiveness is not in our own hands. But it is possible to work for redemption, knowing that redemption can never be complete, and that is what Ted Kennedy did.”

  22. @Christopher

    Thank you for taking me to task for my view on Ted Kennedy. While it is not my place to judge the fate of his eternal soul, I can certainly take a strong stand on his actions that took the life of a young woman. Thank you for the reminder.

    I do not care to recite the numerous times I have witnessed the devastating effects of drunk driving. Sufficient to say, I have never felt to pity the driver of the vehicle who took an innocent life. Not now, not ever!

  23. It is often said that a country, or a people, get the leaders they deserve.

    The fact that we, as a country, tolerate such men in the highest offices of the land says something bad about us collectively. It makes me wonder what secret combinations are going on such that their peers in office are afraid to hold such men accountable.

  24. No Chris, I don’t think it’s similar at all. We of this day don’t tolerate slave owners in high office. Which presidents, senators, or congressmen in our lifetime have been slave owners? And who in our lifetime has given approval to slavery? None that I know of.

    If you’re referring to Thomas Jefferson, I don’t know what was generally known about his private life in his day. I don’t believe adultery with his slaves was known by and winked at by the press in his day, either.

  25. Yes, I am referring to TJ. But we know about it today and we do not dismiss all of his thought and work because of it. Having relations with a young slave is rape since she could not have had a choice. The Federalist media did know about it and wrote about it when he ran for president. It was not taken seriously at the time, but it did turn out to be true.

    I am well aware that slavery was banned 111 years before my birth. Thanks for pointing that out.

  26. In my opinion, at this point it shouldn’t matter to us what personal failings Senator Kennedy had, *especially* anything that he has had more than ample opportunity to repent of.

  27. Speaking of slavery, how about the politicians who want to ensure inner-city youth get only a public school (inferior) education, so they will continue voting for their party. They are afraid that if they get a decent (private or charter school) education, they might be able to see the forest for the trees. This is called “keeping them down on the plantation”.

  28. Geoff – since you’ve asked and I don’t think anybody else has really clarified this correctly, the reason that it is, in general, considered to be in poor taste to speak ill of the dead is because it shows a lack of respect and compassion for the loved ones who are still in mourning. Those who mourn want to focus on their love and their grief, and not on the bad times and bad memories. It is considered disrespectful and unkind to try and remind mourners that their grief is illegitimate.

    I remember when Jerry Falwell died a couple years ago I read an article, published within days of his passing that ended with “Good riddance.”

    I found this to be in very poor taste, even though I find Jerry Falwell despicable. The man’s family and followers were still in mourning, and I think that they have a right to time where they aren’t consistently told that their mourning is illegitimate because of what a terrible person their loved one was.

    After the mourning period is over, its pretty much fine to say whatever you want about dead people, especially if they are public figures. Were the post written a year from now, I think a lot fewer people would find it tasteless (although they might still disagree with you).

    If you disagree with this, I guess that’s your choice, but you are operating outside general social conventions.

  29. Megan, I stick with what I wrote in #18 and #36.

    So, let’s say George W. Bush dies tomorrow. Let’s say all of the articles in the press laud him as a great man and don’t mention his earlier drinking years, nor do they mention Abu Graib, Katrina, Guantanamo, the opposition to the Iraq war or his role in increasing the size of the federal government. Let’s say this is done out of respect for the “loved ones” who are in mourning.

    I will bet you Laban’s sword that you, Chris H, Jjohnsen, TT and the others who have commented here will be among those calling for a more “fair” representation of George W. Bush’s life if such a whitewash were to take place. You will be the first people to say, “what about the Iraq war and the torture, and the cocaine?” and on and on. And by the way, I will have no problem with that because George W. Bush — just like Ted Kennedy — was a real human being with real flaws. When you become involved in public life, you are taking the risk that people will love you and hate you, and all politicians and their families know this.

    Sorry, but I am simply telling my version of what I will remember about Ted Kennedy. You can choose to remember other things.

  30. I’ll let my reaction to Jerry Falwell’s death – and he was a far worse man than Pres. Bush – represent how I would react. Please don’t project your norms onto my own hypothetical reaction.

    Should President Bush die tomorrow, I would hope that he would be remembered for what he did do for our country, not what he failed to do. I would hope for an outpouring of love for his family and a celebration of what was good about his life and the love he showed for others.

    This isn’t about politics, it’s about etiquette. Take a non-political example – the death of Michael Jackson. Heaven knows he was not a perfect man. At best, he was strange and dysfunctional, at worst, a child molester. Yet, out of respect for those who loved him, most choose to celebrate what was good about MJ – his tremendous talent. That doesn’t take away from how history will view him, which will probably be a balence of how people saw him before he died. History will show what history will show, be it for Ted Kennedy or George W. Bush or Michael Jackson of Jerry Falwell, but to try and hijack the grieving process away from loved ones and towards ones own interests is tactless.

    Again, if you want to disagree with this convention, there isn’t much anyone can do about that but find you tactless. However (and this is why I responded), I do have a problem with the assumption that other people are being hypocritical for calling you out on it. I don’t think most of them are.

  31. Megan, thanks for your comment. Ok, let’s look at another example. Sometime soon Fidel Castro will die. He has killed hundreds directly by his own orders, thrown thousands of political prisoners into jail, and his policies have caused the misery of millions. He has living relatives in the United States. Out of respect for them, should we only concentrate on the good things Fidel Castro did and celebrate what was good about his life? Clearly not — such a stance would be offensive to the millions he has made miserable.

    I don’t agree with the supposed convention, the violation of which you claim makes me tactless. I also think the people are very selective about such conventions — they tend to be offended when people speak badly about public figures they admire and not so offended when people speak badly about public figures they don’t care for. Public figures should be examined for the good and the bad, at the very least for the sake of history. I wish more people had mentioned what a monster Michael Jackson was — he almost certainly paid off the family of the young boys he molested to keep them quiet. The fact that people celebrated a child molester literally makes me sick to my stomach.

    So, as I said, you can remember what you choose to about Teddy Kennedy. I will remember him as a great political figure, a man who was admired by his Senate colleagues, a real partisan fighter — and a lech, a lush and a lout. In the words of Dean Wormer, “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Would that more people learned this lesson.

  32. Jerry Falwell and Ted Kennedy are both men in the public eye, because they chose to be such. At any time in the past, Ted Kennedy could have quietly retired from public office. At any time in the past, Kennedy could have chosen to live a more upright life, without first having to marry Vicki (and divorce his first wife).

    Jerry Falwell also made his own bed. At any time, he could have been a national religious figure without bashing others and calling them evil. But he chose his public persona, also.

    While I feel for the family members, they are no different than the spouses of current political figures that are in the news right now for adulterous affairs. I pity the family member, but I’m not about to suggest we not discuss Mark Sanford, John Edwards, or any of the others, simply because we give deference to a spouse and children.

  33. I see no reason why we can’t put off the criticism until at least after the burial. What’s to be gained from speculation about how hot hell is where [pick your favorite dead celeb] is now?

    If the worshipful commentary on the late Senator Kennedy cries out for some balance, just wait. There’ll be a time for balance. Until then, if your stomach turns at the levels of sycophancy reached by the folks at MSNBC or elsewhere, change the channel. Or turn off the TV. Go read a novel.

    Valid criticisms get ignored if they just look like a cheap shot against someone who can no longer speak for himself.

  34. Mark B — turn about is fair play. “Change the channel. Or turn off the TV. Go read a novel.” That’s what I warned people who might be offended by this post to do up in the second paragraph. 🙂

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