Legacy: Considering the Kennedy-Andropov gambit

Now that Ted Kennedy has been eulogized and buried, no one can complain about the examination of his life in the public sphere as inappropriate.  From the beginning, Kennedy’s critics have discussed his failures and cowardice at Chappaquiddick, and that certainly belongs in any discussion of Kennedy’s life.  However, another episode relates much more directly to Kennedy’s public career and should get a great deal more examination now — his effort to enlist Yuri Andropov as an ally of the Democratic Party against Ronald Reagan in 1983.  Peter Robinson reviews the incident for Forbes:

“On 9-10 May of this year,” the May 14 memorandum explained, “Sen. Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant [John] Tunney was in Moscow.” (Tunney was Kennedy’s law school roommate and a former Democratic senator from California.) “The senator charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.”

Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.” …

Kennedy’s motives? “Like other rational people,” the memorandum explained, “[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations.” But that high-minded concern represented only one of Kennedy’s motives.

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

One might think that the press would take more interest in this subject.  Kennedy offered to get Andropov on American television by pushing networks to visit Moscow and give the former KGB chief airtime.  Kennedy wanted Andropov to counter Reagan’s assertion that the Soviet Union was an evil empire.  Kennedy also wanted Andropov to push for nuclear disarmament, which would have allowed the Soviets to survive much longer than they did against Reagan’s economic warfare.

Even putting aside who the Soviets were, this is a despicable tactic for any American politician.  We pride ourselves on our freedom from foreign influences on our elections.  Kennedy tried to set up a mechanism for just that influence for partisan gain — and apparently for personal gain as well.  Kennedy didn’t run for President in 1988, in any event, but the fact that he relayed his ambitions to a foreign potentate and begged for his assistance should be enough to blacken Kennedy’s political reputation for good, or at least everywhere outside of Massachusetts.

But selling out to the Soviets in such a fashion comes dangerously close to treason.  The Soviets weren’t just some other nation a hemisphere away.  In the 1980s, they were our mortal enemies, and almost ready to collapse.  Kennedy didn’t just offer to allow our enemy to manipulate our elections, but offered to take positive action for them to succeed in that effort.

That’s more than just personal cowardice and betraying the trust of a young woman, resulting in her death.  Morally if not legally, the Andropov gambit was a betrayal of American independence and security by a high-ranking politician.  It should stand as a singular denunciation of Kennedy as a power-hungry, contemptible politician.  Like in Chappaquiddick, the only reason it hasn’t is because of his family name.

Update: Paul Kengor, who wrote about this at length in a 2006 book, gives more background on the memo at The American Thinker:

With Kennedy’s death, this stunning revelation is again making the rounds, especially after Rush Limbaugh flagged it in his “Stack of Stuff.” I’m being inundated with emails, asking basically two questions: 1) is the document legitimate; and 2) what does it allege of Senator Kennedy?

First off, yes, the document is legitimate. If it were not, I would have never reported it. Over the years, from my book to radio and web interviews, I’ve provided specifics. Briefly summarized, here are the basics:

The document was first reported in a February 2, 1992 article in the London Times, titled, “Teddy, the KGB and the top secret file,” by reporter Tim Sebastian. Russian President Boris Yeltsin had opened the Soviet archives. Sebastian discovered the document in the Central Committee archives specifically. When his article appeared in the Times, other on-site researchers dashed to the archives and grabbed their own copy. Those archives have been resealed.

The Times merely quoted the document and ran a tiny photo of its heading. Once I got ahold of it later, I published the entire text (English translation) in my book.

Importantly, when I published the document, Senator Kennedy’s office didn’t dispute its authenticity, instead ambiguously (and briefly) arguing with its “interpretation.” This was clever. The senator’s office didn’t specify whether this interpretation problem was a matter of my personal misunderstanding of the document or the misunderstanding of the document’s author, Chebrikov. Chebrikov couldn’t be reached for comment; he was dead.

Be sure to read it all.

Jazz Shaw May 16, 2022 12:41 PM ET