Back in March 1996, my publisher threw a book party for my book “The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded.” Then 83, my mother, Minuetta Kessler, a concert pianist and composer, lived in Belmont, Mass. She boarded a plane at Logan International Airport in Boston to fly to Washington for the party.
On the plane, my mother spotted Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and introduced herself. She asked if he was flying to Washington for her son’s book party.
Kennedy was well aware that the book was not flattering to his father, Joe.
Based in part on the only interview ever given by the surgeon who performed the lobotomy on Joe’s daughter, Rosemary, the book revealed that for political reasons, Joe covered up the fact that his daughter Rosemary was mentally ill rather than retarded, as the family has long claimed. The book documented Joe’s alliance with the Mafia when he made his money as a bootlegger during Prohibition and payoffs he made to win the presidency for Jack. Based on interviews with her, it revealed Papa Joe’s affair with his Hyannis Port secretary, Janet Des Rosiers. The affair lasted nine years — three times longer than his affair with movie star Gloria Swanson.
Nevertheless, when my mother told him the details of the book party, Edward Kennedy was gracious. He said he wasn’t sure he’d be going, and he would have to check his calendar. He told my mother she must be very proud of her son. Later that day, I extended an invitation to the senator to attend the party at the Ritz-Carlton, but of course he did not attend.
Listening to Vice President’s Biden’s remarks about Ted Kennedy after his death, I was reminded of my mother’s encounter with the senator on the plane. Biden said of Kennedy, “He never was petty. Never was petty. He was never small . . . he made everybody he worked with bigger; both his adversaries as well as his allies.”
Then I thought of the contrast between Kennedy and President Obama, who never misses a chance to take a swipe at Republicans even at the most inappropriate times.
Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard after Kennedy’s death, Obama said, “The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party, and at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks.” In much the same way, Obama’s pointless attacks on President Bush and his administration have become a tic.
Of course, Kennedy was a fierce partisan, but he never made the kind of gratuitous, petty remarks that have become Obama’s trademark. Moreover, unlike Obama, he worked with Republicans to develop legislation both sides could support. The No Child Left Behind Act is a shining example. Because it reintroduced phonics — or sounding out letters — to reading instruction, it has produced an improvement in reading scores.
Kennedy overcame the incidents that marred his personal life to become the most effective legislator in American history. By comparison, Obama seems small indeed.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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