In a matter of hours, Mary Jo Kopechne lost her life and Ted Kennedy the presidency.
If a ruthless political enemy of Edward Kennedy had seized the opportunity placed in his hands to destroy the Senator’s career, we might have witnessed some such scenario as that which followed the accident of July 18 on Chappaquiddick Island. We make no such assumption, of course, but the fact is that, following the accidental drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne, the long sequence of actions and omissions by the Senator and his family, friends, advisers, lawyers and even the court and the press, have struck a dismaying blow to his heretofore promising political future. Nearly everyone involved seems to have cooperated to escalate a tragic accident into a full-scale disaster. Disclosures have been made to seem sinister, silences to seem guilty, and the rash, impulsive, understandably ill-considered acts of the central figure have been made to appear as disingenuous attempts to conceal, deceive, or mislead.
We sympathize deeply with the Kopechne family, we sympathize also with the Senator and his family who, counting the cost of a moment’s inattention at an unmarked bridge, must be finding it unbelievably high.
Condolences are also in order for the millions of disaffected Democrats, young and not so young, who have been looking to Mr. Kennedy to lead them through convention and election in 1972. Predictably, the Democrats of Massachusetts have rallied to support one of their own. But in the rest of the country it is another matter; it is doubtful that the Kennedy name, for some time to come, will have its former appeal. Honest disbelief, jealousy and resentment, and the persuasion that the terrible jam he is now in must be largely of the Senator’s own making, have been getting in their work.
The events preceding and following the death of Miss Kopechne, even the time and exact manner of her death, have not been ascertained and made known. Many questions which should have been answered as a matter of course in circumstances such as these have not even been asked. It is understandable, perhaps, that local authorities would hesitate to question aggressively a Senator of their state or his associates. It is much less understandable that the press would not do so, yet at this writing they have not. But it is beyond belief entirely why answers — complete and satisfactory ones — to the obvious questions in this case have not been forthcoming voluntarily from those who participated in the events. A few of the unresolved matters:
(1) The car turned sharply off the macadam road leading to the ferry dock, onto a narrow dirt road, and proceeded to the bridge more than half a mile away. One may imagine a number of innocent or understandable reasons why Senator Kennedy made this detour, and doubtless the real cause is among them. But it could not have been a mistake: nobody in condition to drive a car could confuse a dirt road with a macadam one. Why did not the Senator, in all candor, explain this diversion? Was he advised not to do so, and by whom? The worst possible construction is being put on his lack of frankness here, as was inevitable.