For the past few weeks, I’ve been caught up in the Alabama Senate race and the prospect of conservative voters getting Roy Moore elected to the Senate. At first, I was just as mystified as anyone else as to why conservative Evangelicals would support someone who is accused of pedophilia and rape. When I think of it though, this may be another case of extreme groupthink.
I don’t think that conservatives are the only ones guilty of this. Radical leftists turned a blind eye to Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. In 2016 I left a few Filipino facebook pages when I got into conflicts with individuals who tried to justify Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings. Groupthink is a problem of human nature that both the Left and the Right are vulnerable to.
Recently I saw the trailer to the movie Chappaquidick. During the 1980s and 1990s, conservative friends would question why I am a big fan of Ted Kennedy in spite of what happened in Chappaquiddick. For those of you who do not know, Chappaquiddick was a terrible incident that happened in 1969 when Ted Kennedy drove off a wooden bridge in the middle of the night and his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne drowned. I don’t think there was any evil intent in the death of Kopechne. I think it was just a terrible accident. The issue has always been why did Kennedy wait 10 hours before he contacted the police on the accident. I do agree with my conservative friends that Kennedy probably should’ve spent time in jail.
In spite of that, I still respect all that Ted Kennedy did to pass legislation for civil rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, workers rights, affordable health care. And after he married Vicki Reggie in the early 1990s, he cleaned up his private life. From everything I read, Kennedy spent his life trying to make amends for the terrible thing he did in 1969.
I still have heroes. But I realize that all heroes have feet of clay. I most admire those who had the capacity to grow and change as they learned about the injustices in the world.
Abraham Lincoln was always against slavery, but he held racist views of the inferiority of African Americans before he become President in 1860. During the war, though, Lincoln began to change his mind. He met African American leaders like Frederick Douglass whom Lincoln deeply respected. And Lincoln grew to admire the courage of the African American Union soldiers who fought against the South. At the end of the war, Lincoln held very different views about the equality of African Americans than he did at the beginning of the war.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Malcolm X spouted some very anti-white racist views and he was deeply critical of Martin Luther King Jr and the southern civil rights movement. After Malcolm had a falling out with the Black Muslims and took a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, Malcolm X tempered his views on whites and became more open to alliances with any group who was fighting against systemic racism. Malcolm grew into one of the most insightful leaders in the civil rights movement before he was tragically killed.
Robert Kennedy had a similar evolution. During the 1950s, RFK had been in the committee helping Joe McCarthy investigate alleged communists, and he was relentless in his fight against Jimmy Hoffa and corruption in the Teamsters union. Before Kennedy became Attorney General, he didn’t think much about the civil rights of African Americans. After learning dealing with the intransigence of white segregationists and interacting with civil rights activists, RFK slowly began to gain greater awareness and sympathy for the plight of African Americans. After his brother was assassinated, RFK reached out to Native Americans, striking migrant farmworkers and poor Appalachian white communities. Towards the end of his life, Robert Kennedy became a champion of the poor and the marginalized in this country.
My philosophy when it comes to any political leader is that I’ll support them on issues where I agree with them, I’ll oppose them on issues where I disagree with them. Since I’m liberal, I’ll be more supportive of liberal political leaders on most issues. But I’m willing to support conservative leaders if they are fighting for issues that I support.
I try to judge any political leader by the totality of their life and not just the mistakes of their youth. If they made mistakes in their past, did they acknowledge their mistakes and make amends for it? If they espoused racist or prejudiced views in the past, have they tried to overcome their racist views and fight for equal rights for all? With the news of sexual harassment, have those who are guilty paid the price and tried to make amends?
I’ll probably watch Chappaquidick when it comes out. It probably won’t change my mind about Ted Kennedy. For me, Ted will always be a deeply flawed man who tried very hard to overcome those flaws to fight the good fight for the poor and the marginalized of this society.
Here is the trailer to the movie Chappaquidick
A Boston Globe video by Bill Greene and Ann Silvio on the Chappaquidick incident, based on reporting by Jenna Russell
A video by The Boston Globe’s Joe Kahn on Ted Kennedy’s personal evolution. In the 1970s and 1980s, Ted Kennedy’s personal life was out of control, with issues of womanizing and alcohol hounding him. In the early 1990s, Kennedy cleaned up his private life as he found happiness in his marriage to Vicki Reggie
A Boston Globe video by Ann Silvio and Scott LaPierre about the many ways Ted Kennedy helped ordinary citizens and those who were struggling in our society
Adam Clymer, the author of ‘Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography’ discusses the impact Ted Kennedy had on the Senate since taking office in November 1962. Senator Kennedy produced significant legislation that helped Americans on civil rights, worker rights, affordable health care, women’s rights, immigration