Ted Kennedy, "Giant of the Postwar Senate"; Newsweek Insists the NRA Still Might Lose
1. In their second week of Kennedy tributes, Newsweek and
U.S. News & World Report singled out Teddy. "He will be remembered in both parties as one of the giants of the postwar U.S. Senate," says
Newsweek. U.S. News quotes JFK Jr. on Uncle Ted: "No introduction could match the eloquence of your example."
2. Time saluted the entire Kennedy family, but saved its kindest words for Ted. A book excerpt from a
New York Times reporter gloated "his achievements as a Senator have towered over his time, changing the lives of far more Americans than remember the name Mary Jo
3. The "extremist" and "hardline" NRA may have defeated the rush to exploit the Columbine shootings to pass more gun control, but Newsweek insisted the NRA still might lose. Maybe on the state level.
Continuing the media trend of the past week, the August 2 issues of all three major newsmagazines focused on the JFK, Jr. tragedy and the Kennedy family. On this week’s magazines’ covers, Newsweek featured Caroline Kennedy ("A Sad Goodbye"), U.S. News & World Report used JFK Jr. (without the spouse this time) with the title "America’s Farewell," and Time ran a photo of the three-year-old JFK Jr. saluting his father at his state funeral.
The common theme in each of the magazines is their glowing profiles of Teddy Kennedy. Newsweek’s "Conventional Wisdom Watch" gets the ball rolling. In this edition, Teddy earns an "up arrow" for being the "eloquent patriarch always there for family, finally getting due as Senate's lion in winter." What is notable here is the lack of the "L-word" in describing Teddy. Throughout the broadcast media’s coverage of the JFK Jr. tragedy, Kennedy has often been described as the last "liberal lion" of the Senate. Granted, it is not meant in a negative way, but it is a rare instance of the media’s use of the word "liberal." Even now, Newsweek cannot bring itself to describe Teddy as liberal.
Jonathan Alter continued this Newsweek pattern of denial. "The Kennedys have this reputation as big liberals; in fact, both JFK and his son were centrist and pragmatic." Now one can make a case for both JFK and his son given the father’s position on tax cuts and George magazine’s relative political evenhandedness. However, Alter conveniently ignored the primary reason for the Kennedys’ liberal reputation. Teddy is a "big liberal." Amazingly, Alter went on to praise Teddy’s liberal accomplishments and causes. "While Ted could never be President, he directly affected countless lives with an impressive string of legislative accomplishments on health, education, deregulation and the minimum wage. He's old-fashioned and easy to ridicule, but he will be remembered in both parties as one of the giants of the postwar U.S. Senate."
Gloria Borger followed the Ted Kennedy worship trend in her U.S. News & World Report article titled "The Scars Never Heal." Like Jonathan Alter, she praised his liberal Senate record. "As expected, he once tried out for the Presidency. He failed, yet produced a senatorial legacy no less enduring -- with a lead byline on landmark legislation ranging from civil rights to health care to national service to job training to the minimum wage." Unlike Alter, she acknowledged Ted’s liberal ideology but went out of her way to praise him for it. "In politics, there is something to be said for belief....It’s something House Speaker Tip O’Neill had when he called himself an ‘old-fashioned liberal’ during the Reagan era; it’s what Kennedy clung to during the dawn of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Republican revolution."
Borger also hailed his efforts on behalf of the Democrats’ bid to regulate HMOs, and disdained his "tasteless" opponents: "A couple of weeks ago, Ted Kennedy was a man in full -- on the Senate floor, fighting for his patients’ bill of rights. He was passionate and, as always, funny. One tasteless Republican worried aloud that the senator was so worked up he might have to call in Sen. Bill Frist, a heart surgeon. Kennedy didn’t miss a beat. ‘We couldn’t get Dr. Frist under the (restrictive Republican) bill,’ he roared."
It’s not enough to just quote Kennedy, Borger had to pass on JFK Jr.’s tributes as her own. "In his office, he keeps a picture of himself with John Kennedy Jr. on the podium at the 1988 Democratic convention. The nephew was the political debutant, introducing the uncle, the party patriarch. His inscription: ‘To Teddy, I could have gone on forever, but no introduction could match the eloquence of your example. You're always there for all of us and I'm proud to let the world know.’" Borger ended: "We know."
Time saluted the entire Kennedy family, but saved its kindest words for Ted. Margaret Carlson reported from the scene of Friday’s memorial service: "When a bullet has struck or a plane has crashed, Senator Ted Kennedy has been left to marry his family's private tears to those of the nation. He has done it so often and so well that we remember him most fondly for the goose-bump lines in his eulogies; he shines brightest in the darkest suit."
Carlson concluded: "If his private life is shaped by his love for children and stepchildren, his public one is still shaped by his concern for the little guy, the one who parks your car, rings the cash register at the convenience store, catches the early bus. As he left town he was trying to expand health care, and when he comes back from burying his nephew, he will be fighting to raise the minimum wage. Leaving the Coast Guard cutter that brought the family and friends back to Woods Hole after the burial, he shook hands formally with the officers in their dress whites but gave the crewmen in working blues a slap on the back. It was a gesture that surely would have made his nephew smile."
Now for the piece de resistance. Time ran an excerpt from Adam Clymer’s forthcoming biography of Ted
Kennedy. (Clymer is a former deputy Washington bureau chief for the New York Times.) If Jonathan Alter and Gloria Borger represent respectful kneeling at the Temple of Ted, then Clymer is practically lying prostrate on the ground. Here’s a selection of the choicest quotes.
Clymer’s excerpt began with a shocking piece of moral equivalency. "It is the fate of Ted Kennedy that his failures outside the Senate have always drawn more public attention than his successes inside it. Millions of Americans, not just viewers of Jay Leno and readers of the National Enquirer, know what Chappaquiddick or Palm Beach stands for in the Kennedy story. They don't know that elderly people who receive Meals on Wheels owe him, as do the children who read to them through national service programs. Yet his achievements as a Senator have towered over his time, changing the lives of far more Americans than remember the name Mary Jo
It’s doubtful the Kopechne family takes much comfort in this.
Clymer saluted Kennedy’s fights against conservative Supreme Court nominees: "If he failed to keep Clarence Thomas off the Supreme Court in 1991, he was central to the 1970 defeat of G. Harrold Carswell, a dull racist whom Nixon nominated to the court. And he blocked Robert Bork in 1987."
On foreign policy, Clymer strangely claimed Kennedy was "a spokesman who conveyed American unity on China and the Soviet Union." And: "Across the world, he has been an advocate of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, never believing that its principles were too advanced for Soweto, Moscow, or Santiago."
After this and praising Teddy’s efforts to legislate national health insurance, Mr. Clymer engaged in his own denial of Ted’s liberalism. "Still, many people think of him as a doctrinaire liberal, a spokesman for a cause whose time has gone. That is much too simple. There was nothing liberal about denying bail to dangerous criminals or prohibiting parole in the federal system in a 1984 crime bill. Airline deregulation contradicted the liberal orthodoxy that called for as much control of Big Business as possible." Clymer doesn’t dare offer a glimpse at Kennedy’s career ratings from the American Conservative Union or Americans for Democratic Action. It might dispel a few dated examples.
Clymer concluded with this glowing assessment of Kennedy’s Senate career. "He deserves recognition not just as the leading Senator of his time but also as one of the greats in the history of this singular institution, wise in its workings, especially its demand that a Senator be more than partisan to accomplish much. A son of privilege, Kennedy has always identified with the poor and the oppressed. The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits but sails against the wind."
For all those code words suggesting liberalism’s redeeming qualities ("identified with the poor and oppressed,") why can’t they call a liberal a liberal?
The "extremist" and "hardline" NRA may have defeated the rush to exploit the Columbine shootings to pass more gun control, but Newsweek insisted the NRA still might lose. Maybe on the state level. Back in the June 28 issue, reporter Matt Bai mourned the crushing defeat of the anti-gun lobby: "The final result stunned gun-control advocates and provided a painful political lesson: even the biggest bull in the House won't lock horns with the gun lobby again."
A few weeks later, in the August 2 issue, Newsweek suddenly speculated that the momentum had shifted back to the left. Bai found "cracks in the gun culture -- and in the heartland the balance of support, even in unlikely quarters, is shifting against gunmakers." Beginning with an account of a gun owner whose daughter’s rape and murder turned him into a gun control advocate, Mr. Bai gave an overview of the gun control debate which presents gun control advocates in a heroic light and gun rights proponents as extremists.
Despite the recent congressional defeat, Bai claimed: "The Columbine shooting will be remembered as a pivotal moment. But in fact, attitudes toward guns, like those toward tobacco, changed gradually. For 20 years, a small band of anti-gun crusaders has been waging a holy war against the industry, using carefully crafted lawsuits, journal articles and even oversize billboards. They were inadvertently helped by pro-gun activists themselves, who turned off a wary public with increasingly extremist rhetoric. An evangelical gun lobby won virtually every gun-control battle in the last 30 years -- but in doing so may have lost the war for the soul of Middle America." Through the use of loaded language, Bai managed to kill two birds with one stone, knocking gun rights proponents and (by extension) evangelical Christians at the same time.
Bai continued his "NRA is extremist" theme. "The rise of the handgun split the 100-year-old National Rifle Association into two groups: sportsmen who still wanted to focus on hunting and a ‘new guard’ who saw any attempt to regulate handguns as an assault on the Second Amendment. The hard-liners won, and soon doubled the NRA membership to 2 million. But there was a price to pay: the NRA's tough stands against sweeping restrictions on ‘cop killer’ bullets and assault weapons alienated police and hunters, and America's image of a gun owner began to change after horrific shootings like the 1984 massacre at a California McDonald's. By the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the NRA was bound up in the public mind with a growing militia movement." What does a bombing have to do with the NRA? Just that it presented an opportunity for reporters like Bai to make sure it was "bound up in the public mind" with the NRA.
Bai touted trial lawyer Stephen Teret’s "innovative" tactic of suing the gun makers, the electoral victories of Jim and Sarah Brady’s Handgun Control Inc., "the godfather of the anti-gun family," and Boston developer John Rosenthal, who posted a billboard with the pictures of children killed by guns.
Despite his high hopes, Bai concluded gun control won’t accomplish much soon. "With at least 240 million guns floating around the country, it's unlikely that more laws alone would have much impact. ‘You could implement total gun registration tomorrow, and gun crime probably wouldn't be affected for 20 years,’ says a veteran law-enforcement source. The most sweeping law on the books -- the Brady bill -- has kept about 400,000 people from getting guns from licensed dealers, but only a handful of them have been prosecuted for trying. Federal agents are overwhelmed, and most U.S. attorneys won't pursue such small cases. ‘You can pass a law that says everyone has to drive 55,’ says Smith & Wesson CEO Ed Shultz. ‘But if there are no cops out there to enforce it, it won't matter.’ It took 30 years for America to decide it has a gun crisis. All the will in the world won't undo it overnight."
That’s the liberal mind for you. It really doesn’t work, but lets enact it anyway. So what if the freedoms of law-abiding Americans are further restricted? At least it feels good.
-- Paul Smith
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe