Edward (“Ted”) Moore Kennedy was born in Boston in February 1932, the youngest of nine children. His parents, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald, were both members of wealthy Irish American families in Boston. His father was also a leading member of the Democratic Party. Among Ted’s older siblings were John F. Kennedy (a future U.S. President) and Robert F. Kennedy (a future U.S. Attorney General and Senator). Another brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., was killed in 1944 on a World War II bombing mission.
As a youth, Ted Kennedy was an average student but was admitted to Harvard University as a “legacy” because his older brothers and his father had previously graduated from the school. In his sophomore year, Kennedy was expelled for paying a friend to take a Spanish exam for him. He joined the Army in 1951 and returned to Harvard two years later. He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in history and government.
In 1957 Kennedy enrolled at the University of Virginia Law School. By the time he graduated in 1959, he had been cited four times for reckless driving, thereby earning himself the nickname “Cadillac Eddie.” One violation was for night-driving at ninety miles-per-hour in a suburban area, with his headlights off.
Kennedy met Virginia Joan Bennett in October 1957 and married her thirteen months later. The couple had three children together: Kara Anne (born 1960), Edward Jr. (born 1961), and Patrick (born July 1967). By the mid-1960s, however, the marriage was troubled as a result of Kennedy’s infidelities and growing alcoholism. (They would divorce in 1982.)
Kennedy entered politics in 1958, when he managed his brother John’s successful campaign for a second term in the U.S. Senate. John subsequently left the Senate when he won the presidential election of 1960. Joseph Kennedy wanted Ted to fill John’s Senate seat, but because the Constitution required that all U.S. senators be at least 30 years of age, Ted would not be eligible to hold that office until February 22, 1962. On Joseph Kennedy’s insistence, President-elect John Kennedy asked Massachusetts Governor Foster Furcolo to appoint Benjamin A. Smith II, a Kennedy family friend, to fill John’s old Senate seat until 1962, at which time he would be expected to step down and permit Ted Kennedy to run for the office in a special election; Furcolo complied, as did Smith.
In the aforementioned 1962 U.S. Senate special election, Kennedy, who had been working as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts, ran in the Democrat primary against state Attorney General Edward J. McCormack Jr., the nephew of U.S. House Speaker John W. McCormack. At a debate in South Boston, McCormack derisively told Kennedy that the senatorial job “should be merited, not inherited.’’ Pointing his finger at Kennedy, he added:
“If his name were Edward Moore, with his qualifications — with your qualifications, Teddy — if it was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke.’’
Kennedy emerged victorious in the primary (with 69 percent of the vote) and then went on to defeat Republican George Lodge in the general election.
On November 22, 1963, Ted Kennedy’s brother John was assassinated by a gunman in Dallas, Texas.
In 1964 Kennedy won a landslide re-election to the Senate, and he was re-elected every six years thereafter; his final election was in 2006.
Kennedy was a key player in the creation of Medicare in 1965, and he was a major driving force behind the passage of the Immigration Reform Act that same year. Born of liberal ideology, the 1965 bill abolished the national-origins quota system that theretofore had regulated the ethnic composition of immigration in fair proportion to each group’s existing presence in the U.S. population. Kennedy saw these ethnic quotas as an archaic form of chauvinism, thus the 1965 legislation reoriented policy away from European ethnic groups.
On February 10, 1965, Kennedy, as the Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chairman, promised his colleagues and the nation that if the Immigration Reform Act were to be passed:
“First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of [total] immigration remains substantially the same…. Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset…. Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia…. In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think…. The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs.”
Kennedy was wrong on every count. The Immigration Reform Act made “family reunification” — including extended family members — the key criterion for immigration eligibility. Thus new citizens could, in turn, send for their families, creating an endless cycle known to sociologists as the “immigration chain.”
After the passage of immigration reform, the intellectual, educational, and professional qualifications of new immigrants to America fell precipitously over time. Hispanic immigrants, by far the largest contingent, are today eight times more likely than natives to lack a ninth-grade education, and are less than half as likely to have a college degree. Moreover, contrary to Kennedy’s confident assurance that “no immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge,” as of 2009 fully 21 percent of immigrants were receiving public assistance (versus 14 percent of natives).
On June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles, Ted Kennedy’s brother Robert, who was running for U.S. President, was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
In July 1969 Ted Kennedy became embroiled in what was perhaps the most infamous personal scandal of his life. On the evening of July 18 on the Massachusetts island of Chappaquiddick, the senator hosted a party for volunteers who had worked on his late brother Robert’s 1968 presidential campaign. Shortly before midnight, Kennedy, whose wife was not at the event, left the party accompanied by a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne.
With Miss Kopechne in the passenger’s seat of Kennedy’s Oldsmobile, the senator accidentally drove off a wooden bridge and into tide-swept Poucha Pond (which was, at that location, a channel); the vehicle came to rest, upside down, under the water. Kennedy managed to escape, but the young woman remained trapped inside the car and died. The senator soon left the scene of the accident and, instead of reporting what had occurred, spent the next ten hours concocting an alibi while the car lay unnoticed beneath the water. Kennedy eventually pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.
According to Kennedy biographer Edward Klein, Senator Kennedy in later years became fond of Chappaquiddick jokes. In August 2009, just after Kennedy’s death, Klein related the following to WAMU Radio host Katy Kay:
“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.”
Not long after the Chappaquiddick tragedy, Kennedy announced that he would not be a candidate in the next U.S. presidential election, scheduled for November 1972. In January 1971, Kennedy lost his position as Senate Majority Leader to Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
By the late 1970s, Kennedy was ready to vie with the unpopular incumbent, Jimmy Carter, for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. An August 1979 poll showed Kennedy leading Carter by a 2-to-1 margin. By the time the senator formally announced his candidacy on November 7, however, his momentum had begun to wane, largely because of the public’s distaste for an unimpressive, rambling response he had given a few days earlier to CBS newsman Roger Mudd’s question: “Why do you want to be President?” In the same interview, Kennedy answered questions about Chappaquiddick with reponses that sounded canned and rehearsed. Kennedy’s campaign never regained its original traction after this disastrous interview, and eventually the senator dropped out of the race.
In the early 1980s Kennedy was a key supporter of Randall Forsberg‘s Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that would have reduced America’s nuclear capabilities with no guarantee of reciprocal concessions from the Soviet side. Considering the Soviet Union’s repeated refusal to abide by arms-reduction agreements, critics observed that Kennedy’s sponsorship of nuclear freeze resolutions was, in effect, a declaration of unilateral surrender. As Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, warned at the time, “If the nuclear freeze goes through, this country won’t exist in 1990.”
On March 24, 1983 — the day after Ronald Reagan’s speech about the need for the U.S. to develop a missile-defense system (which came to be known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI) — Kennedy went to the Senate floor and condemned the President’s “misleading Red-Scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes.”
During that same, tense period of the Cold War, Kennedy made secret overtures to the Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, in an effort to undermine Reagan’s presidency. The evidence for this comes from a highly classified May 14, 1983 letter that KGB chairman Viktor Chebrikov wrote to the Soviet General Secretary, Yuri Andropov. In that letter, Chebrikov relayed to Andropov an offer from Senator Kennedy — presented on Kennedy’s behalf by his old friend (and former Democratic senator from California) John Tunney — to reach out to the Soviet leadership. According to Chebrikov: (a) Kennedy was deeply troubled by the deteriorating relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, and he feared that the two nations were coming perilously close to nuclear confrontation; (b) Kennedy was “very impressed” with Andropov and blamed the U.S.-Soviet tensions almost entirely on “Reagan’s belligerence”; (c) Kennedy felt that the Soviets’ peaceful intentions were being “quoted out of context, silenced or groundlessly and whimsically discounted” by Reagan; and (d) “The only real threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations” — issues that Kennedy believed would undoubtedly “become the most important of the  election campaign.”
Chebrikov’s letter spoke of Kennedy’s desire to stop Reagan’s allegedly aggressive defense policies and his 1984 re-election bid, and stated that Kennedy had recommended a number of PR moves to help the Soviets counter Reagan’s “propaganda” and improve their image with the American public. Specifically, the senator had suggested a plan to put Andropov and other senior apparatchiks in touch with influential members of the American media — including Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters, who were mentioned by name — through whom they could better present their message and make their case. Also, said Chebrikov, Kennedy himself had offered to travel to Moscow to meet with Andropov in order “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.” At the end of the letter, Chebrikov wrote: “Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” intimating that Kennedy may have had personal political motives for his outreach to Andropov.
In 1987 Kennedy led Senate Democrats in their bitter fight to prevent the confirmation of President Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork, whose originalist judicial philosophy Kennedy rejected. Cato Institute senior fellow Walter Olson explains:
“As a constitutional law scholar, Bork had distinguished himself even among conservatives for his scathing critique of the Warren Court, which he accused essentially of having made up constitutional law as it went along. To organized liberal groups, on whose behalf Kennedy was acting, this was the next thing to a declaration of war. Yet they couldn’t exactly come out and defend making up constitutional law as you went along as their own vision for the high court. Instead, they served up a steady diet of vitriol and wild oversimplification, especially in TV ads and other messages delivered outside the confirmation hearings.”
Less than an hour after Bork’s nomination, Kennedy, whose staff had thoroghly researched the judge’s writings and record, went to the Senate floor to announce his opposition. Among his remarks were the following:
“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
“America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be. The damage that President Reagan will do through this nomination, if it is not rejected by the Senate, could live on far beyond the end of his presidential term. President Reagan is still our President. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate, and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”
Largely as a result of Kennedy’s efforts, Bork’s nomination was defeated, both in committee and in the full Senate.
In July 1992 Kennedy married his second wife, a Washington attorney named Victoria Anne Reggie, who was 22 years his junior.
In October 2002 Kennedy voted against the resolution authorizing the Iraq War, later calling it “the best vote I have cast in the United States Senate since I was elected in 1962.” In the aftermath of that vote, Kennedy conducted an ongoing campaign to discredit President Bush and to shake popular support for America’s military efforts in Iraq. Among other damaging and demagogic claims, Kennedy helped popularize the Democratic distortion that Bush had lied the country into war by deliberately depicting Saddam Hussein as an “imminent threat.” “There was no imminent threat,” Kennedy declared, earning instant approval from the anti-war Left. But in fact, Bush had made precisely the opposite argument: that Hussein should be deposed before Iraq were to become a real and present danger to U.S. security.
Moreover, Kennedy would help radicalize the anti-war movement by lending credibility to its more conspiratorial conjectures. For example, he claimed that the Iraq war was a sinister plot “made up in Texas” and sold to the Congress as a move that “was going to be good politically” for President Bush. According to Kennedy, “The whole thing was a fraud.”
In 2005 the Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence of “political manipulation or pressure” to manipulate pre-war intelligence on Iraq. But as support for the war cratered, Kennedy won the political fight. His attacks on the war, though discredited, took a damaging toll on the president’s credibility and on the American public’s support for the war.
Throughout his political career, Kennedy advocated the wholesale redistribution of wealth via steeply progressive tax rates designed to fund an ever-expanding array of entitlement programs and social-welfare benefits as well as the public education system. Opposed to any provisions in the tax laws that might help mid- to high-earners minimize their tax liability, Kennedy once said, on the Senate floor, that he would be glad if “the word ‘shelter’ disappears from the tax vocabulary.”1 On another occasion he said, “Instead of shutting down classrooms [due to a supposed lack of funding], let us shut off tax shelters.”2 Whenever fellow legislators proposed tax cuts, Kennedy typically framed them as “giveways” and “bonanzas” intended to help only the wealthy.3 And in the name of social justice, he supported the inheritance tax on assets that are transferred from one generation to the next; a repeal of that tax, he said, would unjustly “benefit millionaires.”4
But while the multi-millionaire Kennedy stood firmly in favor of raising taxes on high earners across the United States, he showed a pronounced reluctance to pay taxes on his own wealth. For many years, Merchandise Mart, the Chicago-based real estate conglomerate that Joseph Kennedy established in 1935, was the most valuable asset belonging to Ted Kennedy and his family. In 1974 Joseph Kennedy divided Merchandise Mart’s ownership among numerous family members, including Ted, in the form of a trust that was domiciled in the Pacific island of Fiji. Because the trust was based in Fiji, it was not subject to the taxes normally imposed on trusts domiciled in the United States.
As of 2005, the tax rate on U.S.-based trusts was 49 percent on everything above the first $2 million. But as of 2005, the Kennedys, who had transferred at least $300 million in trust funds from one generation to another, had paid a mere $132,000 in estate taxes — a rate of four one-hundredths of one percent.5 Had they set up those trusts in the United states, they would have owed more than 7,000 times that amount in taxes.
Ted Kennedy also received additional money — free of inheritance taxes — from a series of trusts that were established for him in 1926, 1936, 1978, 1987, and 1997.
Kennedy became skilled at avoiding not only inheritance taxes but also property taxes. For example, in 1980 theChicago Tribune conducted an investigation which found that although Merchandise Mart had a market value of $35 million, it had been assessed at only $22.8 million by tax assessor (and Ted Kennedy political ally) Thomas Tully. The low assessment permitted Kennedy and his extended family to decrease their property taxes by some $4 million over the course of two years. Another Kennedy-owned building, Apparel Mart, received similar, preferential consideration from the tax assessor, saving Kennedy and his clan another several million dollars in property taxes.6
In yet another maneuver to avoid paying taxes, Senator Kennedy invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax-free Massachusetts bonds.7
An additional area where Kennedy’s rhetoric is inconsistent with his actions was in the realm of affirmative action. Publicly, Kennedy championed the virtues of race- and gender-preferences (in favor of nonwhite minorities and women) in business and academia. Largely because of his unwavering support of affirmative action programs, the NAACP gave Kennedy a perfect 100 percent rating.
But in his private business dealings, Kennedy preferred not to be bound by the dictates of affirmative action regulations. In 1981, for instance, the senator and his family formed two limited partnerships under whose auspices they purchased an entire city block of prime piece of real estate near the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Their intent was to build, on that land, an upscale office complex that could generate a fortune in rental income.
The DC Redevelopment Land Agency had previously enacted a set-aside requirement mandating that minority-owned businesses be guaranteed of participating, to some extent, in any new development project like the one planned by the Kennedys. At the senator’s request, Kennedy political ally and DC mayor Marion Barry — an African American who strongly supported affirmative action — waived the set-aside clause.
By the late 1980s, the newly constructed Kennedy building housed several government agencies as long-term renters. The senator, to avoid the “appearance of a conflict of interest,” sold his stake in the property to his father’s trust company, Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises. As of 2005, the building was worth $200 million.8
Another hallmark of Senator Kennedy’s career was his passionate, outspoken advocacy of leftwing environmentalist crusades. He introduced dozens of bills to encourage the development of solar, hydrogen, and wind energy as alternatives to oil and coal. He once told an audience at the National Press Club that Americans must “start demanding immediate action to reduce global warming and prevent catastrophic climate change that may be on our horizon now.” “We should replace our dependence on foreign oil,” he added, “not by drilling in the priceless Arctic National wildlife Refuge in Alaska, but by investing in clean energy.”9
Then, in 2003, a group of investors launched an initiative known as the Cape Wind Project, whose aim was to meet most of Cape Cod’s electricity needs with wind power rather than the coal-fired power plants that were then in use. A 3,800-page study released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the project was economically feasible and would provide “compelling environmental and economic benefits” to the area.
But the Kennedys objected. At issue was the fact that the proposed wind turbines, which the senator and his family considered to be unsightly, would be built on Nantucket Sound — six miles off the coast of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, and in the immediate vicinity of one of the family’s favorite sailing and yachting areas. Shortly after the report was issued, Senator Kennedy got his longtime friend, Sen. John Warner of the Armed Services Committee, to quietly insert into the defense budget an amendment to stop the project. That amendment, however, was later withdrawn when some other senators noticed it and objected to it.10
While Senator Kennedy was a relentless critic of the environmental damage allegedly caused by oil drilling, for decades he and his family were actively engaged in the oil industry and profited greatly from it. The Kennedys’ oil connections dated back to 1950, when Joseph Kennedy purchased Arctic Oil Company, which drilled mainly in Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven years later he bought two additional oil companies, Kenoil and Mokeen Oil, which eventually struck some massive deposits in Texas and Louisiana, earning millions of dollars for the Kennedys.11
The Kennedys also bought the mineral rights to hundreds of properties throughout the southern United States — in places as far-flung as Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. They purchased most of these properties for pennies on the dollar, usually from poor farmers and rural families who had no idea that their land was rich in underground oil or natural gas. When securing these mineral rights, the Kennedys negotiated arrangements that would permit them, even if they were someday to sell the land, to continue drilling for oil and gas as long as they wished.12 To date, Ted Kennedy and his family earned tens of millions of dollars in profits from their oil ventures.13
Notwithstanding those profits, Senator Kennedy frequently condemned oil companies for their alleged greed. When oil prices rose dramatically in late 1970s, for instance, he criticized the “excessive profits by oil companies” and he sought to eliminate a number of tax deductions from which those companies had long benefited. In particular, he crafted legislation designed to end the 22 percent depletion allowance for oil companies, characterizing it as “welfare” for the wealthy.
When writing the bill, however, Kennedy distinguished between “small struggling oil producers” (which would be permitted to keep their tax shelters) and “already cash-rich-companies,” which would not.14 Kennedy’s companies, by the definitions the senator himself penned, fell into the former category and consequently were allowed to take depletion allowances and other drilling deductions that, over the years, would save the family hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 1985 Senator Kennedy and his family devised yet another way to avoid paying taxes: They converted their oil companies, Kenoil and Mokeen, from corporate ownership to a royalty limited partnership (i.e., a royalty trust), thereby freeing themselves from having to pay any corporate tax or income tax. Now they pay only a 15 percent capital gains tax.15
During the George W. Bush administration, Kennedy was an outspoken critic of the manner in which the President and his advisors conducted the war on terror. He opposed, for instance, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which, after its implementation in 2002, was known to have stopped several hundred foreign criminals and several known terrorists who attempted to enter the United States at certain official ports of entry. In late January 2003, Kennedy slipped a provision into the Senate’s omnibus appropriations bill to completely cut off funding for NSEERS.
Kennedy was also one of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. In late 2002 he voted against authorizing the President to use military force against Saddam Hussein, just as he had done prior to the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Characterizing the 2003 war as “a fraud” plotted by President Bush, Kennedy accused the administration of manipulating intelligence data in order to justify an invasion of Iraq. “There was no imminent threat,” the senator said on September 18, 2003. “This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.”
In 2007 Kennedy supported a carbon “cap-and-trade” system — a massive tax scheme ostensibly designed to reduce “greehouse gas emissions” — which would impose an estimated $4,500 in additional yearly costs on every family of four.
Over the course of his long legislative career, Kennedy dramatically changed his position on the issue of abortion. In a now-famous 1971 letter to a constituent, the senator wrote that “human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” But Kennedy thereafter became an unwavering proponent of abortion-on-demand. He voted several times — in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2003 — against a proposal to ban the late-term procedure commonly known as “partial-birth abortion.” In 2004 he voted against a proposal to make it an added criminal offense for someone to injure or kill a fetus while carrying out a crime against a pregnant woman. He consistently received ratings of 100 percent from abortion-advocacy groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.
As the 2008 presidential election season approached, Kennedy initially stated that he would support John Kerry if the latter chose to run. When Kerry opted not to join the race, Kennedy remained neutral while Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled in the primaries. Eventually Kennedy opted to support Obama, an endorsement he announced on January 28, 2008.
For an overview of Kennedy’s Senate voting record on a number of key issues, click here.
In May 2008 Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer. From his sickbed in 2009, he quietly orchestrated meetings with lobbyists and lawmakers to craft legislation for a government-run health-care plan, which he called “the cause of my life.” One of the groups with which he collaborated most closely was We Believe Together — Health Care for All.
Early on the morning of August 26, 2009, Kennedy died at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
In The Deeds of My Father, a book authored by Paul Pope and released in October 2010, it was revealed that Kennedy had used his influence to quash a 1980 National Enquirer story alleging that Mary Jo Kopechne was pregnant with Kennedy’s child at the time of her death. According to The American Thinker, “The story detailing the alleged coverup included on-the-record sources, with every quote attributed.”
1 Peter Schweizer, Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy (New York: Doubleday, 2005), p. 79.
3 Ibid., p. 80.
5 Ibid., p. 81.
6 Ibid., p. 82.
7 Ibid., p. 83.
8 Ibid., p. 84.
9 Ibid., p. 85.
10 Ibid., pp. 87-88.
11 Ibid., p. 89.
12 Ibid., p. 90.
14 Ibid., p. 91.
15 Ibid., p. 92.