The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass writes that with the death of Teddy Kennedy, perhaps we can now put the Kennedy / Camelot myth to rest. Sorry, Mr. Kass. Myths don’t work that way.
Did Jacqueline Kennedy and a fawning press create the myth? Kass makes a pretty good case for that. But no matter how it started, the myth caught on and remains alive today because it speaks to many of us who believe an individual can make a difference. It is a myth that empowers all who believe our country stands above all for justice and equality. JFK was president for only three years, but the new narrative he launched for the country resulted in civil rights reforms after his death. Bobby’s murder, as horrible as it was, served to add to the heroic inspiration of the myth. Rather than scare us away from the cause, Bobby’s assasination emboldened many, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Teddy tarnished the myth with Chappaquiddick and his narcisism. Only in his later years did I begin to forgive Teddy and allow him into the story. His rebuke of Senators who refused to raise the minimum wage — “What more do you want from the working men and women of this country,” he bellowed — demonstrated a deep-seated commitment to the ideals of equality and justice.
I spent the last week watching Teddy speaches and learned that his ideals were there, even as he hypocritcally leveraged the life of privilege. Days after Martin Luther King Junior’s murder, he urged Americans to look inside themselves for the seeds of such tragedy. His message: Apathy allows people to think it’s OK to kill and OK to burn down cities in response. His eulogy at Bobby’s funeral was artflully put to a slide show in a 2008 YouTube video. The images of suffering in Iraq and New Orleans set against words spoken 40 years earlier depressed me. Has anything changed?
Kass’ column brought me up from that funk, though. The myth hasn’t changed. As long as it endures, I know that it is being kept alive by people who will continue the journey toward peace, equality and justice.