Edward M. Kennedy. True Compass: A Memoir. New York: Twelve Hachett Book Group, 2009.
The Senator from Massachusetts writes of growing up with a family who had strong connections to each other. They were encouraged from childhood to stick together by gathering at meals and conversing, which proved to be very bonding. His father was a leader advocating against intervening in World War II. His brother Joe was the first sibling to become involved in politics, serving as a Delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention as a supporter of James Farley over Franklin Roosevelt.
Ted’s brother, John, 15 years older than Red, was also Ted’s godfather. This was a role John took seriously, as was expected of John, in helping guiding Ted.
His brother John was elected to Congress and then to the U.S. Senate. Brother Bobby became a staff member of Joseph McCarthy’s committee and was among the Democratic staff members who resigned to express their outrage at McCarthy’s tactics. Yet Bobby was loyal, a lifelong trait of his, and he would remain personally friendly to McCarthy. Bobby then became Chief Counsel to Senator John McClellan’s committee that investigated illegal Teamsters activities. Bobby forever became known from then on for his ruthlessness, a trait Ted writes was not Bobby’s true nature.
Ted attended Harvard, where he played varsity football and the University of Virginia, where his roommate John Tunney would also become a U.S. Senator. Ted and Tunney together won Moot Cour., He met prospective law student George H.W. Bush , beginning a friendly relationship between them.
When John ran for President in 1960, Ted’s role was to campaign in 11 Western states. At one rodeo rally, Ted was told the only way he’d be introduced was if he rode a bronco. He agreed, lasted seven seconds, and was uninjured. That won for John the support of several Delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Ted also had a pilot’s license and would impress local Democrats by being able to reach them, even by landing a plane in the snow. Another time he had to ski downhill in Wisconsin and jump 190 feet in the air, something he’d never done before.
At the convention, the Kennedy forces were worried they would fall short of a majority for the nomination. They were concerned that Wyoming, which voted last and had pledged 11 ½ of its 15 votes to Kennedy was led by a Chairman who favored Lyndon Johnson. Ted asked the Chairman if Wyoming could put Kennedy over the top by casting all 15 votes for Kenney. The Chairman, thinking such as scenario was unlikely, agreed. When Wyoming was called, Kennedy was within 12 votes. The Chairman, in a split second decision, cast all 15 votes for Kennedy, giving him the nomination.
Ted became as Assistant District Attorney. His first case was a drunk driver who crashed his car after consuming 26 drinks. Ted assumed it would be an easy conviction. Yet the defense attorney pleaded how the conviction would put his family on welfare at cost to the taxpayers and how his crime had been drinking in celebration of the Red Sox winning a doubleheader against the Yankees. The jury found him not guilty.
Ted ran for the U.S. Senate in 1962. He recalls one voter who came up to him declaring “they say you haven’t worked a day in your life. Lemme tell you. You haven’t missed a thing.” Ted easily won the primary with 73% of the vote and the special election 53% to 44%.
Ted joined the prayer breakfasts, consisting of about 12 to 15 Senators. He learned this was a power clique that discussed matters and, except for partisan matters, often voted together.
Ted observed Senator Willis Robertson once give a speech on one side of an issue and then vote the other way. Ted asked him about it and Robertson explained “in my state, the people are evenly divided on this bill. To those who favor it, I send my speech. To those who oppose it, I send my vote.”
As Senator then , Ted employed one administrative assistance and one legislative assistant. Today, Senators often have over 50 staffers.
To get his Senate committee assignments, Senator James Eastland required him to drink three shots, one for each assignment. He did, although some of the drinks were poured over plants when Eastland wasn’t looking.
Ted writes he reviewed the Warren Commission report on the assassination of his brother John and he questioned Earl Warren for four hours about the report. He accepts the report.
Ted also believes John was planning on withdrawing troops from Vietnam and never got the change to do so.
After voting for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ted flew to attend the Massachusetts Democratic Convention with Sen. Birch Bayh. The plane crashed. The pilot and an aide died. Ted suffered a broken back among other injuries. While injured, Ted took the time to meet with experts on issues and improved his awareness of policies. He developed a special awareness of health care issues.
Ted fought to eliminate the poll tax. Some leading liberals opposed him, fearing this might cause a backlash. He lost the fight 49 to 25 but notes the Voting Rights Act directed the Attorney General to file suits against states with poll taxes. The Attorney General did so and won all his suits.
Ted did not want Bobby to run for President in 1968. Ted believed Lyndon Johnson was going to be reelected and Bobby should wait until 1972 when he would be an obvious front runner.
Ted worked with Republican Sen. Howard Baker to require Congressional districts to have proportional representation with a small deviation that others wanted. The Senate sided with Kennedy and Baker by 51 to 22.
Kennedy visited Vietnam in 1968. He insisted on seeing areas not on the official military tour. He canceled meeting that later was destroyed by a planted bomb. He found that military and South Vietnamese government officials were stonewalling him. Kennedy criticized the corruption of Vietnamese officials who were pocketing funds meant for refugees. Ted finally agreed with his brother Bobby to oppose the war.
Ted states Bobby cared about many issues, not just about ending the war but also about ending poverty and was for civil rights. Ted believe if Gene McCarthy had included these issues and not just the war that Bobby would not have run for President. Ted also states Bobby told him that if he lost he would never again run for President.
After Bobby was assassinated, Mayor Daley and Allard Lowenstein asked Teddy to run for President. He declined, stating he couldn’t find the desire to run in his dead brother’s place. Humphrey asked Ted to run for Vice President, but he also didn’t feel like running, especially since Humphrey still supported the Viet Nam War.
Ted decided to challenge Sen. Russell Long for Assistant Senate Majority Leader. He won, which to then he considered was the height of his Senate career.
After Bobby’s death, Ted started drinking heavily and driving fast. His tragedy where he drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island and Mary Jo Kopechne died is something that haunted him every day from then on.
Sen. Robert Byrd ousted Kennedy as Assistant Majority Leader. Ted lost the support of two Senators from Washington because he was against funding supersonic planes that were to be built in Washington. His loss forced him to focus more on the traditional work of a Senator. He studied issues, sought advice from experts, and became proficient in Senate procedures.
In 1970, Kennedy proposed and became a champion for national health insurance. In 1972, he wrote a book “In Critical Condition” supporting this position.
Ted worked with Senator Jacob Javits to create a national cancer department. Ironically, a few years later, his son Ted, Jr. developed cancer. His leg had to be amputated.
Kennedy took pride in his role on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He successfully opposed the nomination of Clement Haynsworth to the U.S. Supreme Court. He found Haynsworth was not sensitive to minorities and poor people. Ted then successfully opposed the nomination of G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court, who had opposed segregation, slowed desegregation, and declined to consider habeas corpus cases concerning African Americans. Carswell was defeated 51 to 45.
William Rehnquist was nominated to the Supreme Court. Rehnquist had opposed school desegregation and supported restricting races from housing. Kennedy questioned Rehnquist yet few wanted a third fight over a nominee. Kennedy notes the Senate has a tradition of not fighting a President too often, even though Kennedy thought Rehnquist was not qualified.
The Nixon Administration halted three antitrust suits against ITT in 1971. The prosecutor Richard McLaren was suddenly made a Federal Judge. An informant tipped off columnist Jack Anderson that ITTpaid$400,000 to sponsor the Republican National Convention. Kennedy held hearings that exposed Nixon campaign irregularities. This was a prelude to the Watergate hearings.
Kennedy faulted President Carter for failing to deliver on his 1976 c campaign pledge to support universal health care insurance. Kennedy had realized they was not politically viable and formed a coalition with the AFL-CIO and the UAW for universal health care that allowed for private insurance. The Carter Administration wanted to achieve health care reform piecemeal.
Ted was surprised that Carter would not appointed former Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox to the Federal Appeals Court. Kennedy argued he was well regarded for his legal experience. Carter told Kennedy he wouldn’t do it because Cox had supported Morris Udall over Carter in 1976.
Carter’s public support fell to 25% approval. Kennedy considered running for President. He admits he stumbled when Roger Mudd asked him “why do you want to be President?” He hadn’t yet announced he was running and his fumbling of an answer hurt him when he did run for President. The Iran hostage situation created a new political environment that put more focus on President Carter.
Kennedy realized too late that his campaigning in the Iowa Caucus with lots of security and press did not appeal to the voters. The campaign soon was low on funds. Kennedy kept raising issues. He became the first major Presidential candidate to support gay rights.
Ted opposed President Reagan’s proposal to cut Federal programs. With help from Senator Lowell Weicker, many cuts for health and education were spared. Most of the other cuts were approved by Congress. Kennedy found it difficult to get President Reagan to concentrate on issues at hand. He did find Reagan very warm and personable.
Ted considered running for President in 1984. His sons advised him that he should instead concentrate instead on the Senate. Other advisors warned it would be a tough campaign. He decided not to run, which was a wise choice as Reagan was very popular and easily reelected.
Ted noted John Kennedy believed Americans were mostly conservative yet desired progress. Skilled politicians are ones who speak conservatively yet enact liberal programs.
President Clinton learned to listen to the advice of Senator Robert Byrd. Byrd was a Senator was commanded respect from most other Senators. Senators listened to Byrd. Senator Byrd’s refusal to let health care be considered as an extraneous amendment to a reconciliation bill killed that health care bill. Byrd’s fight for a North American Free Trade Agreement, in contrast, was successful.
Kennedy observes that “being a Senator changes a person…it fills you with a heightened sense of purpose.” He also notes that while great Senators leave, new great leaders always emerge. When Kennedy first arrived in the Senate, the senior Senators met at a country club for gold every morning. They would spend their afternoon in their offices or the Senate floor and then socialize over drinks in one of the Senate offices before evening social events. Senators interacted and socialized with each other. In this ear, staff does almost all the work and Senators seldom meet and discuss with each other.
Kennedy opposed entering a war against Iraq. He based his views on the ideas of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas that a war has to be just, legitimately beneficial to people, be driven by justice and not ulterior motives, must be done as a last alternative, must do more good than harm, and must have a good possibility of being won.