Edward (Ted) Kennedy

Edward (Ted) Kennedy

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: United States Senate


* Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, 1962-2009
* A key player in the creation of Medicare in 1965
* A major driving force behind the passage of the Immigration Reform Act of 1965
* Escaped manslaughter charges for 1969 Chappaquiddick incident
* Supported the Soviet-sponsored Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign in the 1980s
* Secretly contacted the head of the Soviet KGB in 1983, in an effort to undermine the Reagan presidency
* Described the 2003 U.S. war in Iraq as “a fraud”
* Favored higher taxes for people in upper income brackets, but took many measures to minimize his own tax liability
* Died on August 26, 2009


Edward (“Ted”) Moore Kennedy was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 22, 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 a World War II bombing mission in 1944.

Harvard: Admission, Expulsion, & Graduation

Ted Kennedy was merely an average student in high school but was admitted to Harvard University as a “legacy” because his older brothers and his father had previously graduated from there. In his sophomore year, however, he was expelled for paying a friend to take a Spanish exam for him.

Kennedy joined the U.S. Army in 1951, returned to Harvard two years later, and eventually graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in history and government.

Law School & Reckless Driving Charges

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 90 miles-per-hour in a suburban area, with his vehicle’s headlights off.

First Marriage

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 1967). By the mid-1960s, however, the marriage was troubled as a result of Kennedy’s infidelities and growing alcoholism, and they would eventually divorce in 1982.

Launching a Political Career

Kennedy entered politics in 1958, when he managed his brother John’s successful campaign for a second term in the U.S. Senate. Two years later, Ted helped run John’s presidential campaign in eleven Western states.

When John was subsequently elected to the White House in November 1960, Joseph Kennedy wanted Ted to fill John’s newly vacated 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 (capturing 69 percent of the vote), and then went on to defeat Republican George Lodge in the general election by a margin of 55.4% to 41.9%.

JFK’s Assassination

On November 22, 1963, Ted Kennedy’s brother, U.S. President John Kennedy, was assassinated by a gunman in Dallas, Texas.

Many Re-Elections to the Senate

In 1964 Kennedy won a landslide re-election to the Senate, and he was re-elected every six years thereafter, until his final election in 2006.


Kennedy was a key player in the creation of Medicare in 1965.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Kennedy was also a major driving force behind the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (a.k.a. the Hart-Celler Act). Born of liberal ideology, this 1965 bill abolished the national-origins quota system that theretofore had regulated the ethnic composition of immigrants 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 — allocating 170,000 visas annually to people from Eastern Hemisphere nations, vs. just 120,000 to people from the Western Hemisphere. The new yearly ceiling on new immigrants was 290,000, a massive increase from the previous standard of 150,000.

For the first time in the history of U.S. immigration policy, Hart-Cellar gave higher preference to the relatives of American citizens and permanent resident aliens than to applicants who possessed specialized job skills. It made “family reunification” — including the importation of extended family members — the key criterion for immigration eligibility. Thus, new citizens could send, in turn, for their family members, creating an endless cycle known to sociologists as the “immigration chain.” As a result of the new immigration standards ushered in by Hart-Celler, the intellectual, educational, and professional qualifications of new immigrants to America fell precipitously over time.

On February 10, 1965, Kennedy, as the Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chairman, promised his colleagues and the nation that if Hart-Celler 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.

RFK’s Assassination

On June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles, Ted Kennedy’s brother Robert, a U.S. senator who was running for president, was killed by an assassin’s bullet.

Mary Jo Kopechne Drowns in Chappaquiddick

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, in a cottage on the tiny Massachusetts island of Chappaquiddick, the senator hosted a party for six so-called “Boiler Room Girls” — unmarried female volunteers, all in their twenties, 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 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

With Miss Kopechne in the passenger’s seat of Kennedy’s 1967 Oldsmobile, the senator accidentally drove off of Dyke Bridge, a wooden structure with no guardrails, and into tide-swept Poucha Pond (which was, at that location, a channel). After 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. In a nationally televised public address that he would eventually deliver a week later, Kennedy claimed that he had tried to rescue Kopechne from the car in the water:

“I remember thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head that I was for certain drowning. Then water entered my lungs and I actual felt the sensation of drowning. But somehow I struggled to the surface alive. I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and alarm. […]

“Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted in the grass for an undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage where the party was being held and requested the help of two friends, my cousin, Joseph Gargan and Phil Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me — this was sometime after midnight — in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at some risk to their own lives, also proved futile.”

In former Boston Globe journalist John Farrell’s 2022 book, Ted Kennedy: A Life, the author writes that immediately after the car accident in Chappaquiddick, Kennedy “got to his feet and jogged and stumbled back to the party.” When he reached the cottage, he crawled into the back seat of a parked car on the driveway and called out to Raymond LaRosa, a Massachusetts civil defense official who was standing by the front door, and asked him to bring out two particular individuals who were inside attending the party — Joseph Gargan (who was Kennedy’s cousin) and Paul Markham, both of whom were lawyers.

By now it was about 12:20 a.m., and Gargan and Markham accompanied Kennedy back to the pond, with Gargan driving as fast as he could. According to Farrell, while Gargan and Markham repeatedly dove into the water in an effort to rescue Kopechne, Kennedy laid down on the bridge “moaning and rocking” and “was no help at all.” Among the words Kennedy allegedly shouted were: “This couldn’t have happened. Can you believe it? I don’t believe this could happen to me.”

All told, Gargan and Markham spent some 45 minutes trying to rescue Kopechne, but their every effort was thwarted by the powerful currents.

Having failed to save Miss Kopechne, the three men then went to the island’s ferry slip, where, by Farrell’s telling, Kennedy openly speculated about the possibility of trying to cover up what had happened: “Why, [Kennedy] asked Gargan and Markham, did the world have to know he was driving the car? Couldn’t Mary Jo have driven off the bridge herself?” But Gargan and Markham advised Kennedy: “You have got to report this thing immediately.”

According to Farrell, Kennedy at that point told his two companions: “You take care of the girls” — referring to the other young women who were at the party — and “I will take care of the accident.” A Reader’s Digest account of the same conversation is nearly identical, stating that Kennedy told his companions: “All right, all right, I will take care of it. You go back, don’t upset the girls, don’t get them involved; I will take care of it.”

Kennedy then swam across the harbor to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard and went to his room at the Shiretown Inn to change into dry clothes. When he subsequently walked outside at 2:25 a.m. and saw the innkeeper, the senator stated that he had been awakened by some noise emanating from a party nextdoor.

In Farrell’s account, when Markham and Gargan confronted Kennedy later that morning at about 8 a.m., they became enraged upon learning that the senator had not yet gone to the police. Indeed, Kennedy told them that he had “tossed and turned, paced that room” throughout the night, unable to “gain the strength within me, the moral strength to call Mrs. Kopechne.” He added that he “somehow believed that when the sun came up and it was a new morning, that what had happened the night before would not have happened and did not happen…it was just a nightmare. I was not even sure it happened.” Markham retorted: “Well, it happened, and you have got to report this thing, and you have got to do it now.”

According to Farrell, Kennedy also told Markham and Gargan: “I’m going to say Mary Jo was driving.” But the two men talked him out of doing that.

At about 10 a.m. on the morning of July 19 — some 65 minutes after Kopechne’s body had been found and recovered by a local volunteer fireman — Kennedy finally reported his own role in the previous night’s tragedy to Dominick Arena, the police chief of Edgartown. In a statement to officer Arena, Kennedy gave the following account of the previous night’s events:

“On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 p.m. in Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., I was driving my car on Main Street on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown. I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dyke Road instead of bearing hard left on Main Street. After proceeding for approximately one half mile on Dyke Road, I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge. The car went off the side of the bridge. There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary ________ [Kennedy omitted the surname, unsure of its spelling], a former secretary of my brother, Senator Robert Kennedy. The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom. I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out or the car. I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car. I was unsuccessful in the attempt. I was exhausted and in a state of shock. I recall walking back, to where my friends were eating. There was a car parked in front of the cottage, and I climbed into the back seat. I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown. I remember walking around for a period of time and then going back to my hotel room. When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.”

After having given the statement, Kennedy asked Arena to withhold its contents from the press for approximately an hour, so as to give the senator an opportunity to consult with his lawyers. Arena agreed and withheld the statement for several hours, but when he till had not heard back from Kennedy, he released the senator’s statement to the media at 3 p.m.

For the next six days, Kennedy remained in seclusion at his family’s compound in Hyannis Port. The only time he emerged, was to attend the funeral of Mary Jo  Kopechne in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. Throughout the six days, all of the senator’s closest advisors told him it was vital that he issue a public explanation regarding the incident of July 18. Toward that end, Kennedy administrative aide David Banks, former JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen, and Washington attorney Milton Gwirtzman helped the senator craft what would be the most important political speech of his life up to that point in time.

On the morning of July 25, 1969, Kennedy formally pleaded guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident and failing to report it. The judge, with the consent of the prosecution, imposed the minimum sentence permitted under the law—a two-month suspended jail term and the revocation of Kennedy’s driver’s license for a period of one year.

That night, Kennedy went on national television to deliver his public “explanation” to the country, a speech that lasted for 17 minutes. Among his assertions were the following:

  • there was “no truth whatever to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct” regarding Kennedy’s relationship with Kopechne;
  • he “was not driving under the influence of liquor”;
  • his conduct during the hours immediately following the accident “made no sense to [him] at all”;
  • he “regard[ed] as indefensible that fact that [he] did not report the accident to the police immediately”;
  • “[a]ll kinds of scrambled thoughts” went through his mind after the accident, including “whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area”; “whether some awful curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys”; “whether there was some justifiable reason for [him] to doubt what had happened and to delay [his] report”; and “whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from [his] shoulders”; and
  • he was overcome “by a jumble of emotions — grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock”

Kennedy ended his speech by discussing the fact that he would now need to decide whether or not to continue serving as a senator, and how he might best be able to “make some further contribution to our state and mankind”:

“These events, the publicity, innuendo, and whispers which have surrounded them, and my admission of guilt this morning, raises the question in my mind of whether my standing among the people of my State has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate. If at any time the citizens of Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator’s character, or his ability — with or without justification — he could not in my opinion adequately perform his duties and should not continue in office.

“The people of this State, the State which sent John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster, and Charles Sumner, and Henry Cabot Lodge, and John Kennedy to the United States Senate are entitled to representation in that body by men who inspire their utmost confidence. For this reason, I would understand full well why some might think it right for me to resign. For me, this will be a difficult decision to make.

“It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You and I share many memories — some of them have been glorious, some have been very sad. The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile. And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers — for this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own….

“I pray that I can have the courage to make the right decision. Whatever is decided, whatever the future holds for me, I hope that I shall have — be able to put this most recent tragedy behind me and make some further contribution to our state and mankind — whether it be in public or private life.”

Kennedy ultimately decided to stay in his post as a U.S. Senator. He returned to work on July 31.

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 The Deeds of My Father, a book authored by Paul Pope and released in October 2010, it was alleged that Kennedy had used his influence to quash a 1980 National Enquirer story claiming that Mary Jo Kopechne, at the time of her death, was pregnant with the senator’s child. According to American Thinker, “The story detailing the alleged coverup included on-the-record sources, with every quote attributed.”

Kennedy Loses His Position as Senate Minority Leader

In January 1971, Kennedy lost his position as Senate Majority Leader to Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Drive to Recognize Cuba

In 1972, Kennedy helped lead a coalition of U.S. House and Senate members who collaborated with radical activists to push for a more relaxed diplomatic relationship between the United States and Fidel Castro‘s Cuba.

Under, the auspices of Kennedy and fellow Democratic Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa, numerous liberal scholars assembled in April 1972 for a two-day conference in D.C. to try to outline a new U.S. policy on Cùba.

Conference Supporting Communist Rule in Nicaragua

In 1979, Kennedy supported a National Conference on Nicaragua organized by the U.S. Peace Council and several other radical groups, whose aim was to help the Marxist-Leninist Sandinistas take political control of the country.

Kennedy & the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee

Senator Kennedy was invited to speak at a November 1979 Democratic Agenda Conference which was held in Washington, D.C. and was initiated by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), whose leader, Michael Harrington, endorsed Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign. Though Kennedy chose not to appear in person at the conference, he sent a message conveying his support for Democratic Agenda’s objectives: “I share your conviction that [a] progressive economic and social program must gain a high priority in the direction of our party and our nation…I welcome the opportunity to work with you.”

On June 30, 1981, DSOC International Committee chair Nancy Lieber wrote a letter to a staffer for Canadian Member of Parliament Ian Waddell, in which she included “a list of Congresspeople and senators who know about us [and] democratic socialism,” and who were “sympathetic in varying degrees” to the DSOC cause. Kennedy’s name was on the list, along with such others as Ron Dellums, Byron Dorgan, Steven Solarz, Ted Weiss, Barney Frank, Gerry Studds, Robert Kastenmeier, John Conyers, Harold Washington, David Obey, Les Aspin, and Barbara Mikulski.

Failed Presidential Campaign of 1980

By the late 1970s, Kennedy was ready to vie with the unpopular incumbent, Jimmy Carter, for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. A summer 1979 poll showed Kennedy leading Carter by an enormous 2-to-1 margin. But by the time the senator formally announced his candidacy on November 7, his momentum was waning badly — largely because of the public’s distaste for an unimpressive, rambling response he had given in a televised interview three days earlier to CBS newsman Roger Mudd’s question: “Why do you want to be President?” Kennedy’s reply was as follows:

“Well, I’m…uh…Were I to make the, uh, the announcement and to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country, that it is, there’s more natural resources than any nation in the world. There’s the greatest educated population in the world. The greatest technology of any country in the world. And the greatest capacity for innovation in the world. And the greatest political system in the world. And yet, uh, I see that the current time, that, uh, most of the industrial nations of the world are exceeding us in terms of productivity, uh, doing better than us in terms of meeting the problems of inflation, that they’re dealing with the problems of energy, and the problems of unemployment. And it just seems to me, that, uh, this nation can cope and deal with its problems in a way that it has in the past. We’re facing complex issues and problems in this nation at this time. But we have faced similar challenges at other times. And the energies and the resourcefulness of this nation, I think, should be focused on these problems in a way that brings a sense of, uh, restoration, uh, in this country by its people to, in dealing with the problems we face, primarily the issues on the economy, the problems of inflation, and the problems of, uh, energy. And, uh, I would basically feel that, uh, that it’s imperative for this country to move either move forward, that it can’t stand still. Or otherwise it moves backward.”

Another politically damaging moment for Kennedy occurred in that very same interview, when Mudd asked him: “Do you think, Senator, that anybody really will ever fully believe your explanation of the Chappaquiddick…?” Kennedy’s reply, verbatim, was as follows:

“Oh, there’s…the problem is…from that night…I found the…the…the…the…conduct and behavior almost as sort of…beyond belief myself. That’s why it’s been…but I think that that’s, that’s the way it was. That’s, that’s, that happens to be the way it was. Now…I find it as I’ve stated, that…I’ve found that the conduct, that…that evening, in, in, in, in the…as a result of the impact, of the accident, and the…and the the sense of loss, the sense of hope, and the, and the sense of tragedy and the whole set of certain circumstances, that…the, the behavior was inexplicable. So I find that those, those…those types of questions as they apply to that…they’re questions in my own…soul, as well. But, that, that happens to be the way it was.”

Kennedy’s campaign never regained its original traction after this disastrous interview, and eventually the senator dropped out of the race.

Supporting the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign

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. The Soviet Union is a country that has had totalitarian rule for many hundreds of years, and what a relatively small ruling class there might do can be very different from what a democratic country can decide to do. The rulers in the Kremlin are as eager as Hitler was to get power over the whole world. But unlike Hitler they are not gamblers. If we can put up a missile defense that makes their attack dubious, chances are they will never try the attack. We can avoid a third world war, but only if strength is in the hands of those who want peace more than they want power.”

Kennedy and Mark Hatfield, a Republican Senator from Oregon, co-authored the 1982 book, Freeze! How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War. The book promoted the Kennedy-Hatfield Nuclear Freeze Resolution.

Deriding the Missile-Defense System as a “Star Wars Scheme”

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan delivered to Americans a televised speech about the need for the U.S. to develop a missile-defense system — which eventually came to be known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI. In the coure of his address, Reagan said:

“Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are — indeed, we must! After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe there is a way.

“Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today. What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies? … Tonight, consistent with our obligations under the ABM Treaty and recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I am taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.”

The very next day — March 24, 1983 — Kennedy condemned Reagan’s “misleading Red-Scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes.” Similarly, in a college commencement address which he delivered that June, Kennedy derided the Reagan administration’s “unrestrained pursuit of their Star Wars scheme for outer space — which would open another trip wire for nuclear war.”

Secretly Contacting the KGB to Undermine Reagan

During that same, tense phase 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 “very 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 1984 election campaign.”

Chebrikov’s letter also spoke of Kennedy’s desire to stop Reagan’s allegedly aggressive military policies and his 1984 re-election bid, and stated that Kennedy had recommended a number of PR moves that could 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. In a published English translation, Chebrikov described Kennedy’s proposal as follows:

“Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize in August-September of this year, televised interviews with Y.V. Andropov in the USA. A direct appeal by the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. The senator is convinced this would receive the maximum resonance in so far as television is the most effective method of mass media and information.”

Also in his May 14, 1983 letter, Chebrikov stated that Kennedy himself had offered to travel to Moscow to meet personally 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.

Smearing Robert Bork

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 was anathema to Kennedy. 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 was announced, Kennedy, whose staff had thoroughly researched the judge’s writings and judicial record, went to the Senate floor to declare 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.

Ties to Michael Harrington

On June 30, 1988, at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, Kennedy was a guest speaker at an event titled “In Celebration of Michael Harrington,” founder of the Democratic Socialists of America. Among the other speakers on hand were Ed Asner, Jesse Jackson, Steve Max, and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Kennedy was also a guest speaker at a September 15, 1989 tribute service in honor of the recently deceased Harrington. Among the other speakers were Irving Howe and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Second Marriage

In July 1992, Kennedy married his second wife, a Washington attorney named Victoria Anne Reggie, who was 22 years his junior

Opposition to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq

In October 2002, Kennedy voted against the resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, 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 falsely depicting Saddam Hussein as an “imminent threat.” “There was no imminent threat,” Kennedy declared on September 18, 2003, earning instant approval from the anti-war Left by lending credibility to its more conspiratorial conjectures. “This was made up in Texas, announced in January [2003] to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.” But in fact, Bush had made precisely the opposite argument: that Saddam should be deposed before Iraq were to become a real and present danger to U.S. security.

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.

Kennedy’s Hypocrisy on Taxes & Wealth Redistribution

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 inheritance taxes on assets transferred from one generation to the next, and said that the repeal of such taxes 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 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 also 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] If the family trusts would have been set up in the United States, the Kennedys 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 his father had 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 the Chicago 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]

Kennedy’s Public vs. Private Stances on Affirmative Action

An additional area where Kennedy’s rhetoric was 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 in 2006.

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, D.C. Their intent was to build, on that land, an upscale office complex that could generate a fortune in rental income. But the D.C. 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, however, Kennedy political ally and D.C. 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]

Kennedy’s Hypocrisy on Environmentalism & Fossil Fuels

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, Senator 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] Indeed, Ted Kennedy and his family earned tens of millions of dollars in profits from their oil ventures.[13]

Notwithstanding those windfalls, 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 thus were allowed to take depletion allowances and other drilling deductions that, over the years, would save the Kennedy 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. Instead they paid only a 15 percent capital gains tax.[15]

Opposing the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System

During the George W. Bush administration, Kennedy was an outspoken critic of the manner in which the president and his advisors were conducting the war on terror. Kennedy 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.

Supporting “Cap-and-Trade”

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 proposals 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.

Longtime Supporter of ACORN

In a 2008 blog post, Wade Rathke — founder of the notoriously corrupt, pro-socialist community organization ACORN — approvingly quoted the veteran ACORN organizer Dewey Armstrong‘s laudatory remarks about the contributions that Kennedy had made to the organization. Some excerpts from Armstrong’s comments:

  • “As you may know, Ted Kennedy may not be with us [alive] much longer, though he is reported to be in good spirits and helping his family and friends and the rest of us through what is no doubt a scary scenario. What a great guy!”
  • “ACORN allied with him in ’79 (a tactical decision at the time), when he committed unequivocal support for the central demand of our ACORN 80 Peoples Platform campaign (our first real national campaign), while Jimmie [sic] Carter didn’t much want to talk to us or risk being seen dealing with what we might call the broad-based progressive forces that were organizing, speaking out, and acting for social and economic justice…. Ted Kennedy represents better than just about anybody our aspirations.”
  • “Ted Kennedy is an inspiration and example of what can be accomplished in the halls of power w/o sacrificing principles too much.”
  • “I am attaching some press from 1982, in which Edward Kennedy’s eloquence and beliefs ring loud and proud.”

Supporting Kerry, Clinton, & Obama for President in 2008

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.

Kennedy’s Senate Voting Record

For an overview of Senator Kennedy’s voting record on a number of key issues, click here.

Kennedy’s Policy Positions

As matters of principle, Kennedy believed that:

  • all women should have an unrestricted right to abortion-on-demand at any stage of pregnancy – subsidized by taxpayers, in cases of economic hardship;
  • public and private employers alike should be legally required to implement affirmative-action hiring and promotion policies that give preference to African Americans and women, as compensation for historical injustices;
  • the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is an excellent statute that can serve as a strategic stepping stone toward the eventual implementation of a government-run, single-payer healthcare system;
  • Social Security should remain entirely and permanently under federal control, with no movement whatsoever toward any degree of privatization;
  • the principle of church-state separation is inviolable and should preclude permitting prayer in the public schools, or the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places;
  • voucher programs designed to enable low-income parents to send their children to private schools rather than to failing public schools, constitute bad policy because they rob the public schools of vital resources;
  • more guns in the hands of private citizens inevitably result in higher levels of crime, thus the availability of firearms should be restricted by whatever means are effective;
  • wealthy people and high income earners should pay dramatically higher tax rates than those with less wealth or lower incomes;
  • restrictions on immigration are basically racist because they tend to prevent Hispanics and other non-whites from entering the United States;
  • social services should be available to all U.S. residents regardless of their immigration status;
  • illegal aliens should be offered amnesty if they have been productive members of society;
  • federal spending on public infrastructure projects and job programs is crucial to the success of any economic recovery program;
  • the nationalization of banks and corporations is preferable to federal bailouts of those entities.

Illness & Death

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.


  1. Peter Schweizer, Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy (New York: Doubleday, 2005), p. 79.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., p. 80.
  4. Ibid.
  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.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid., p. 91.
  15. Ibid., p. 92.

Additional Resources:

Ted Kennedy’s Voting Record

Chappaquiddick: The Still Unanswered Questions About Ted Kennedy’s Fatal Car Crash of 1969


By Rush Limbaugh and Stefan Molyneux

© Copyright 2024, DiscoverTheNetworks.org