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Teddy the K

Commentary by Greg Lewis /
May 27, 2004

Teddy ("Are there two p's in Chappaquiddick?") Kennedy recently uttered the mother of all liberal moral equivalencies when, at the height of the media-driven Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse brouhaha, he declared "Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management." In the immortal words of Chuck Berry, "It don't take but a few minutes, to understand . . . (I'm paraphrasing here) that this statement pretty much sums up the moral and political core values (or the absence thereof) of the Massachusetts Senior Senator, not to say many of his cohorts." Indeed, it has been remarked on several occasions that Teddy's drinking and drugging have turned him into the Senatorial equivalent of rock music's David Crosby. Can you say "liver transplant?"

But Kennedy's equivocating, not to say his moral (and political) terpitude — is "political terpitude" even possible? — is legendary. Indeed, it is on a shifting, paltering, dodgy foundation that liberals base any of their pronouncements in the first place, so why should we be surprised to learn that Teddy and his ilk not only have a problem getting the facts straight, they have a problem recognizing how to interpret said facts once they have acknowledged them.

Yo, Ted! For the record, making prisoners parade around naked with women's underwear on their heads (as American Abu Ghraib prison guards are known via captured digital images to have done) is not tantamount to feeding live prisoners feet first into shredding machines and watching them die horrible screaming deaths, as Saddam Hussein did repeatedly. Nor is it the moral equivalent of killing thousands of Kurds with poison gas or of murdering and burying in mass graves as many as 400,00 Iraqi men, women, and children, as Saddam Hussein and his followers are now known to have done.

Senator Kennedy, your equivocating with regard to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal bears the same moral and existential relationship to what our nation is trying to effect in Iraq as your bolting from the scene of the accident which took Mary Jo Kopechne's life does to trying for all you're worth to save someone trapped underwater in a car. The fact that you spent nine hours following your hasty exit from the scene plotting how you would cover up your involvement in the incident — during which time Mary Jo is said to have struggled, breathing from a trapped air pocket in the Oldsmobile from which you had escaped for as long as two hours before she died, following your driving said Olds off the Dike Bridge in something of a drunken stupor — only serves to throw into vivid relief the moral vacuity of your life and career.

Never mind that your impulse toward vacillation and equivocation and simple dodging might well have cost a young woman her life. Never mind, further, that your assumption of what amounts to the same shrugging off of moral responsibility you evinced in July of 1969 still characterizes your inability to recognize what is right and moral and necessary with regard to our nation's involvement in Iraq. Just as you looked for a way to dissociate yourself from the responsibility you bore (and still bear — karma is a bitch) for Mary Jo Kopechne's death, so you seek somehow to present yourself, not as a party to the legitimate effort to eliminate the agents of terrorism in the Middle East, but rather as some sort of "god of creation" (to quote James Joyce from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"), "above it all, paring his fingernails." In the words of the poet Charles Olson, "People don't change, they only stand more revealed."

Have you ever heard of Salman Pak, Saddam Hussein's terrorist training camp? Do you somehow not now understand that when we in America relax our vigilance against the forces of terrorism around the world we at the same time abdicate our responsibility as the most powerful nation on this planet to advocate for the disenfranchised, the unprotected, the vulnerable?

The responsibility of moral leadership rests, for better or for worse, on the shoulders of American politicians, statesmen, and military personnel, not to mention American citizens. No American is free of the onus of this responsibility. And whether it presents itself as the need to treat prisoners of war with the simple human respect due all of our fellow inhabitants of this planet, or as the need to live our lives in such a way as to exemplify the values implicit in our nation's proponence of liberty and human dignity, or as the daily decisions that make up the "stuff" of our lives . . . no matter what form this need to express our "Americanism" takes, it is incumbent on us to manifest it in our lives.

Further, we need to manifest it in such a way that our actions will resonate with others around the world who are faced with categorically equivalent decisions to those we ourselves are making. Our actions must bear witness to the inescapable necessity that we Americans face in leading our counterparts among the citizens of the world toward the underlying values and the principles of human interaction that are the foundation of truly free and open societies, societies which respect genetic and cultural and political and religious variety, while at the same time recognizing that this variety must — indeed, can only — flourish as a function of a truly democratic and integrated society. Let me hereby go on record as asserting that Teddy the K, and his manqué John Kerry, need not consider themselves fit for such responsibility.


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