Kennedy Memoir discusses Chappaquiddick, JFK and other Presidents

3.9.09

In a memoir being published posthumously, Senator Edward M. Kennedy talks remorsefully about the car accident that claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne – a turn of events many consider a chief reason that he was never able to mount a successful bid for the presidency.

Writing in his book “True Compass,” which is scheduled to be published on Sept. 14, Mr. Kennedy, who died a week ago, described his actions in the 1969 accident as “inexcusable” and said that at the time he was afraid, overwhelmed “and made terrible decisions.”

Mr. Kennedy said he had to live with the guilt of his actions for four decades but that Ms. Kopechne’s family had to endure worse. “Atonement is a process that never ends,” he writes.
In the 532-page book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Kennedy also said he has always accepted the official findings of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, an event that he said left family members fearing for the emotional health of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy that he often thought of one brother’s deep grief over the loss of another and said it “veered close to being a tragedy within a tragedy.”

Senator Kennedy said he had a full briefing by Earl Warren, the chief justice, on the commission’s investigation into the Nov. 22, 1963, shooting in Dallas. He pronounced himself convinced that the Warren Commission got it right and said he was “satisfied then, and satisfied now.”
Mr. Kennedy’s book provides unique details about life in America’s famous political family and covers the remarkable career that was celebrated last week in a series of memorials before his burial near his two brothers in Arlington National Cemetery. It provides his personal account of being stricken by the brain cancer that took his life and his decision to battle the disease as aggressively as he could. And he talks openly and regretfully about “self-destructive drinking,” especially after his brother Robert’s death.

The book, published by Twelve, a division of the Hachette book group, was originally scheduled to be published in 2010 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the election of President Kennedy but was moved up due to his illness. Much of the book, written with a collaborator, was based on contemporaneous notes taken by Mr. Kennedy over the years as well as hours of recordings for an oral history project.

In the memoir, Mr. Kennedy also suggests that his brother the president was growing uneasy about events in Vietnam and was increasingly convinced that the conflict could not be resolved militarily. He said his brother’s “antenna” was up and surmises that the president was on his way to finding that way out. “He just never got the chance.”

Mr. Kennedy tells of a secret meeting in the spring of 1967 between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy, whose increasingly outspoken criticism of the war in Southeast Asia was becoming a political threat to Mr. Johnson. According to the book, Robert Kennedy proposed that Mr. Johnson gave him authority to personally negotiate a peace treaty in Vietnam. This, implicitly, would have kept Mr. Kennedy out of the 1968 race for the Democratic nomination, a prospect that Mr. Johnson had come to worry greatly about.

“If the president had accepted his offer,” the book says, “Bobby certainly would have been too immersed in the peace process to become involved in presidential primary.” Mr. Johnson could not take the offer at face value, concerned that Robert Kennedy had ulterior motives.
In explaining why he decided to run for the presidency in 1980, Mr. Kennedy explained how he was motivated in part because of his differences with then President Jimmy Carter. Among other things, he was frustrated by Mr. Carter’s incremental approach to providing universal health care coverage, saying the president’s go-slow approach was “squandering a real opportunity to get something done.” He described Mr. Carter as a “difficult man to convince – of anything.” He described their relationship as “unhealthy.” And after Mr. Carter’s famous “malaise speech,” the senator wrote, he concluded that Mr. Carter held an “inherently different view of America from mine.”

Mr. Kennedy recounts attending a dinner with Bill Clinton shortly after he was elected president in 1992 at the Washington home of Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post. According to Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Clinton said at the time that if he did not get national health insurance through Congress, he should not be president.

Mr. Kennedy expressed great disappointment at the ultimate failure of health care to pass during that period, though he did not place the blame for it on Mr. Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who oversaw the effort for Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Kennedy said he called Mr. Clinton immediately after he appeared on television to confess his affair with Monica Lewinsky, reassuring Mr. Clinton he would stand by the president during this difficult period.

In the midst of recounting this anecdote, Mr. Kennedy took a break to offer his views on the scrutinizing of the private lives of public officials, something to which he clearly was quite familiar. Mr. Kennedy said he had no quarrel with such inquiries.

“But do I think it tells the whole story of character? No I truly do not,” he wrote.
Mr. Kennedy notes that he had never dwelled on the reversals of his life, legislative defeats or causes unfilled and discusses how he came to endorse Barack Obama during the presidential primaries despite his close relationships with other candidates. He said he was able to persevere through his own personal faith.

“I have fallen short in my life, but my faith has always brought me home,” he said.
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