True Compass: A Memoir, by Edward M. Kennedy

Book 44

I snapped up Senator Kennedy’s memoir just as soon as I found it in the clearance section of Half Price Books.  But I decided to listen to it on audio.  The narration was good, but it took awhile to get used to hearing a not-Boston accent telling the story in the first person.

My friend Jamie had already read it and when I asked him if it was worth it, he said that there wasn’t a lot of new material, but the chapter on Chappaquiddick made it worth the time.   I love a good Kennedy book, so I was all in.

Of course, there is plenty of spin here, but Kennedy does a good job of owning that this is his perspective and he is totally biased where his family is concerned.  I particularly appreciated his recollections of his father and his perspective as the youngest of nine.

He maintains that his father had high expectations of his children, but never told them what to do.  He recalls a profound moment when Joe told him that he would still love (Ted) if he chose not to have a serious life, but wouldn’t have much time for there were so many other children doing interesting things.

That would have worked on me, too.

So yeah, idolizing the brothers and following the path.  He owned that he married too young and that he and Joan were ill-suited.  That can happen to anyone.  He absolutely doesn’t say a thing about any other women until after the divorce.

The Chappaquiddick story was pretty good.  His story is the same (he was driving the girl home, he hardly knew her, doesn’t remember all that much and it was all his fault).  Otherwise, he lets the record stand, except to say that seriously, he wasn’t sleeping with the girl.  He also talks about how he had been drinking too much since his brother Bobby’s death.  The context he gave that I hadn’t considered before was this:

When his brother Jack was killed, Ted was so worried about Bobby drowning in grief that Ted himself held it all in and never properly grieved.  Such that with Bobby’s loss, Ted was starting over at square one.  And really, feeling very alone.  I buy that.  And I buy that the human mind will make/allow one to forget things that are traumatic.  I’m not saying I condone it, but I buy it.

He talks a lot about the presidents from Kennedy on to Obama and his relationships with them.  He had the harshest words for G.W.B., but interestingly, he has a lot to say about Carter.  I think we all knew they weren’t buds, but Kennedy doesn’t even say nice things about post-presidency Carter.

One last thing:  he notes that Congress used to be in session five-days-a-week, and people stayed late and talked face-to-face and sometimes included their families.  Now, it is a Tuesday-to-Thursday session where people talk on Blackberries and maybe on the phone.  He talks a lot about how members of Congress with whom he had good relationships even if their political views differed.  Now it seems like…not so much.

For me, that point made the book worth reading.

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