As long as we’re on the subject of humor this morning, what kind of jokes did the late Ted Kennedy like to tell his closest friends? One of Kennedy’s close friends, former editor of Newsweek and New York Times Magazine Ed Klein, tells the Diane Rehm Show that Chappaquiddick jokes were high up on the list (audio here, at 30:10):
I don’t know if you know this or not, but one of his favorite topics of humor was indeed Chappaquiddick itself. And he would ask people, “have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?” That is just the most amazing thing. It’s not that he didn’t feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, but that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things, too.
EXCUSE ME? If that’s true it makes Kennedy kind of a monster. The odd thing is that if you listen to the whole show, the tone of everyone involved is nauseatingly haigographic and reverential. Klein apparently let his guard down a bit; after he lets it slip Kennedy liked to joke about the woman he killed you can actually hear in his voice that he’s trying to backpedal. The show actually cuts to a break as he’s trying to explain himself, and I seriously wonder if it wasn’t the producers trying to do Klein a favor. But I’m sorry, there appears to be little to that could explain this. It goes way beyond “you had to be there.”
If nothing else, it puts to rest the notion that Kennedy’s remorse balances out the undeniable cowardice of his actions at Chappaquiddick. Even allowing for the best possible spin on his actions that day, what kind of person jokes about an incident that left a young woman dead in the back of his own car? Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) got high marks from some for joking about his arrest for indecency and acknowledging his public humiliation, but the only thing that died in the X-rated theater was Reubens’ television show.
It does set free Kennedy’s critics to talk at length about Chappaquiddick and its proportion to Kennedy’s public life. After all, if Kennedy thought it was a topic for humor in private, then it certainly is a valid topic for serious analysis of his life as well.
Update: Had the wrong audio link; it’s fixed now.
Update II: Here’s the audio: