Kennedy friendship defended

September 2, 2009


Opinion columnists, like the rest of humanity, walk a fine line between judgment (holding people accountable to a standard we did not create) and judgmentalness (thinking ourselves morally superior because we haven’t committed the acts of others).

Since writing of my friendship with the late Sen.Edward Kennedy, I have been flooded with responses. Some have been kind, but many — perhaps a majority — have heaped on me the revulsion these writers also heaped on him. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was the writer who accused me of “going wobbly.”

That many on the Left continue to dance on the grave of Richard Nixon and revile George W. Bush does not give the Right permission to engage in eye-for-an-eye behavior. Many on the Right invoke the name of Jesus on Sunday and tear down a politician whose policies they don’t like the rest of the week. Tearing down policy is fine, but diminishing the value of a fellow human simply because you don’t like his politics (or his personal behavior) is not a good strategy for persuading him to change either. It also raises the level of invective, which is injurious not only to our politics but to the one contributing the invective.

What am I trying to accomplish when I engage in criticism? Do I want to present superior arguments I hope my political opponent will at least consider, if not adopt, or is my objective simply to make me feel better by engaging in moral superiority? If it’s the latter, I am committing the sin of pride, which goes before all the others.

Sen. Kennedy’s list of sins are well known, from sexual promiscuity to offering help to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov in exchange for his assistance in defeating Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. The latter act is properly criticized, even denounced. The former can easily fall into the judgmental category.

Public exposure of private sins reminds us of our own cover-ups. Each of us is capable of doing what Sen. Kennedy did, given the right circumstances and opportunity. This doesn’t excuse them. It does explain them.

This was the great offense laid on Jesus of Nazareth, whose name was invoked on several occasions at the Kennedy funeral and burial. Those who hated and rejected Jesus did so because he exposed what was in them and no one likes his dark soul exposed to the light. It is one reason some of us wear makeup and nice clothes, blow-dry our hair and why others consider plastic surgery as they age. If we seek to cover external flaws in these ways, how much more would we undertake to hide the internal ones? Vanity, vanity; all is vanity.

This is not to absolve Sen. Kennedy of his sins, only to say that we are neither the judge, nor the one who can absolve. We can’t forgive ourselves, or as I put it to a TV interviewer who asked me “bottom line: Senator Kennedy, a good man?”

“Only God is good,” I responded. “The rest of us are sinners.”

It is not hypocritical to care for someone who behaves badly. In fact, it is the height of love to do so because you want him to have a changed life and attitude that will help him behave better for his own sake and that of his family. Denouncing that person and condemning him to hell is not likely to make him more open to things that will lead him in the other direction. Who among us has lived a perfect life that would be acceptable to God?

Twila Paris wrote a song that might speak even to hard hearts when they think of the one who forgave their own sins and who was never accused of going wobbly: “How beautiful the tender eyes that choose to forgive and never despise.”

I strongly opposed much of what Sen. Kennedy proposed, but I cared for him as a person. Those without sin, send your condemnation stones to this newspaper, or to the other address provided.


cato_the_elder 8 years, 5 months ago

The root of Kennedy's problems was the same as Michael Jackson's: Too much money at too young an age in life.

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

I suppose the references to God will keep the Thomas haters from admitting that this is a good article---they would do well to consider its message.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

"The root of Kennedy's problems was the same as Michael Jackson's: Too much money at too young an age in life."

So are you suggesting that anyone born rich (or who obtains wealth extremely young) have it confiscated in some fashion so that they aren't spoiled by it?

meggers 8 years, 5 months ago


You presume too much. I have no problem with Thomas' references to God and respect him for not throwing his friend, Senator Kennedy, under the bus. I do, however, think he commonly makes broad generalizations about those of us who do not share his political ideology.

I agree that all of us would do well to consider Thomas' message. I also think that we would all be well-served to take a lesson from Kennedy, by treating the least among us with respect, dignity, and providing equal opportunity for all, regardless of wealth or privilege.

staff04 8 years, 5 months ago

"perhaps a majority — have heaped on me the revulsion these writers also heaped on him."

Cal, I think this is much more a commentary about the kind of people your writing generally appeals to, rather than the nature of your relationship with Kennedy. I sincerely doubt that the "revulsion" was generated from anything other than your regular fans.

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

meggers--good points. I know, though, if you have read the posts regularly, that we DO have a number of posts who "see red" if God is mentioned at all. That comment was directed toward them--not toward someone more reasonable, as you apparently are.

cato_the_elder 8 years, 5 months ago

Bozo, it's like freedom of speech - in a free society, many excesses must be tolerated in order to maintain essential freedoms, and thus only rarely should be regulated by government. It is, however, important for multiple reasons to recognize that certain specific excesses, while generally tolerated, often lead to ill results - and Michael Jackson and Senator Kennedy are two very good examples of having too much money at too young an age in life. The fact that they did, however, is no business of government at any level in a free society.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 5 months ago

Good column, Cal. You are generally well-reasoned and thoughtful, not a skill generally shared by some of your fellow 'conservatives.' Nice sentiments, and a good analysis of what we are up against. As E.T. said, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone."

jimmyjms 8 years, 5 months ago

"So what if I judge others, god will forgive me right?"

Didn't your buddy Jesus say something about that?

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