Thanks for the critique and kind words. I remember buying a copy of National Defense in the hardback edition, back when the cost of a book had to be weighed with rent and beer. It is still on my shelf, an excellent example of paradigm-busting for young, aspiring journalists. I, too, heard stories about why EMK was late to the podium. One of them, in the EMK oral histories, was that Ed Koch, a Carter supporter, contributed to the traffic jam in misplaced spite, by pulling off the NYPD police escort. EMK was surely piqued when he got there and found "every freeholder from New Jersey" on the podium, but he did shake Carter's hand several times, and the president could very well have yanked that handshake into a hands-aloft victory pose. What alternative history: imagine if Carter had tried to do this, and Teddy had resisted! We would still be talking about the wrassling match at the Garden.

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With humility, I dissent. I find “what if” history to be useless. It is merely a Rorschach test for one’s fondest hopes. If history was merely a binary exercise, a choice between two paths, then contemporaries could have seen it just as well and avoided the unfavorable outcomes. “What if” exercises are an example of false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy. To ask what would have happened if Ted Kenned was not a drunk is a meaningless exercise. Maybe he could have defeated Carter and Reagan. Maybe Reagan would have defeated both Carter and Kennedy. But the fact remains that Ted Kennedy was a drunk. He enervated the Democratic Party and delegitimized Carter.

Which brings me to my second dissent. Notwithstanding the occasional flights of rhetorical fancy, Ted Kennedy’s most enduring legacy which has shaped a couple generations of Americans, and will likely alter the life course of a few generations to come, the legacy that will last beyond all legislative accomplishments, is the election of Ronald Reagan.

I’m taking a pass on the book.

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Sep 26, 2022Liked by James Fallows

For all of Ted Kennedy's faults, he was not a grasping, criminal-minded sociopath, although his weaknesses would have probably resulted in a disastrous presidency. He actually reminds me of Hunter Biden, Billy Carter and Roger Clinton - all brothers of presidents, and all deeply flawed.

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Sep 26, 2022Liked by James Fallows

“This is the greatest lesson a child can learn. It is the greatest lesson anyone can learn. It has been the greatest lesson I have learned: if you persevere, stick w/it, work @ it, you have a real opportunity to achieve something. Sure, there will be storms along the way. And you might not reach your goal right away. But if you do your best and keep a true compass, you'll get there.”

― Edward M. Kennedy, True Compass: A Memoir

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.”

“I have fallen short in my life, but my faith has always brought me home.”

“Integrity is the lifeblood of democracy.

Deceit is a poison in its veins.”

“Ronald Reagan must love the poor; he is making so many of them.”

“One of the great lessons I’ve learned from a life in politics is that no reform is ever truly complete. We must constantly keep moving forward, seeking ways to create that more perfect union.”

― Edward M. Kennedy, True Compass: A Memoir

“What counts in our leadership is not the length of years in Washington, but the reach of our vision, the strength of our beliefs, and that rare quality of mind and spirit that can call forth the best in our country and the best in the world.”

― Edward M. Kennedy

goodreads quotes

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Sep 26, 2022Liked by James Fallows

Another great article for our breakfast read, thanks! And, the comments section is always very interesting and it brings up many different, totally fascinating points of view. "Like" all comments!

About our Ted: He was the most forthright, most insistent, most courageous champion of international human rights. That makes his problem with Carter even more tragic: President Carter gave us hope by basing foreign affairs on basic human rights, and spending his life defending human rights. What an incredible role model.

(Let's all reread the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a legal instrument signed by most countries in our world. Everyone on our planet has the right to basic human rights including safety, housing, a job, medical care, schooling. Ironically, for the past human rights champions, in 2022 we now have enough resources to feed and care for every single person on the planet, but we do not have the political will to do so.)

Yes, Ted Kennedy had his major human flaws. Let's count up all of humanity's leaders that had the same flaws, for perspective. It's a long list.

Watching the Mad Men series again recently, I remembered that the show took us through the darkness of the vicious murders of MLK, President Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.

How our society reeled as guns tore apart our leaders and our dreams. Ted Kennedy loved his brothers very much.

Senator Kennedy was called "The Lion of the Senate." In the Reagan era, human rights advocates working on genocide and refugee rescue knew the real reason for that. Most assumed it was because he was a senior Member. No, it was because you could hear his loud roar of disapproval of GOP anti-refugee tactics, sounding through the marble hallways of Russell Office Building, as he walked to the hearing room. You could hear him coming down the hall from a mile away.

Senator Kennedy is responsible for holding the line on human rights during the hearings for the Immigration Reform Bill of 1984. The Bill offered sweeping new, unique protections to refugees and immigrants, all opposed by the GOP.

You could always count on Senator Ted and the entire Kennedy family to be our American human rights protectors. That's their legacy.

Let's admit: most of the world cares so little about the forgotten, the poorest of the poor.

Let's care about the least and the most forgotten among us, the poorest of the poor, the refugees who have lost everything. In America, as the brilliant Congressman Barney Frank liked to say, "Unless you are speaking Navajo, you came from somewhere else." It can be us.

Refugees and immigrants deserve our help and protection. They deserve to have human rights in their own countries, so they can stay home if they want to. That is what foreign policy geniuses like Senator Kennedy and President Carter know is the best way to good international policy.

Usually, the refugee makes it to America using the very last of their resources, mental and physical. Lane Kirkland, head of AFLCIO, would say during the hearings for the landmark Immigration Reform Bill: " We welcome all refugees and immigrants, anyone who wants to come here. We'll give them jobs and a Union card." ;) True story, he repeated it many times.

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Sep 26, 2022Liked by James Fallows

As the youngest of 3 brothers and an alcoholic who has been sober for 32 years, I can certainly relate in many ways to Ted Kennedy. And like others, I find "what if?" scenarios interesting and informative. When we study these possible microscopic diversions, we begin to understand how often monumental changes in the course of history turn on a simple whim or detail - as you have pointed out above.

I love the term "butterfly effect" to describe these tiny changes (the flap of a butterfly's wings) that end up determining major events some time in the future (a major hurricane). When imagining these scenarios, particularly regarding politics, there is one unavoidable question that keeps rearing its head: "What if I were to become more involved in politics at this point? Is it possible for one individual to be the butterfly that flaps its wings and causes a hurricane?"

We have numerous inspirational quotes that point us in that direction, all centered on the wisdom behind the alleged Gandhi quote, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." But how many of us truly believe that we could be that butterfly - how many of us dare to flap our wings?

The fact is, just as Ted Kennedy had no awareness of the eventual consequences of getting behind the wheel of that car in 1969, or the butterfly has no awareness of its effect on the movement of air molecules and the chain reaction that results in our hypothetical hurricane, so none of us can ever be aware of the influence we have on the world around us. A simple act of kindness on a street corner can be passed along from one person to another, metastasizing into a decision by someone in power to alter a policy, thus changing the lives of millions in a positive way.

Indeed, do we have to involve ourselves in politics at all in order to affect change? Or can we simply do our best each day to pour as much positive energy and good will into the world around us? Perhaps instead of focusing on engineering a hurricane, it's more important for us to just flap our wings and allow the laws of nature to do the rest? In simpler terms, maybe we should all just focus on doing the Next Right Thing?

There could be a good lesson here for members of Congress.

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I very much enjoyed reading Farrell's book on Nixon, so I'm definitely looking forward to this one. And btw Jim, because of your mention of it, I'm rereading Blue Highways, 40 years later, same copy of the book.

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Sep 26, 2022Liked by James Fallows

A couple of colleagues and I went to see Ted Kennedy speak at lunch hour in San Francisco during his 1980 campaign. We arrived at the event favorably disposed toward his run; headed back to the office shaking our heads and thinking along the lines of George W. Bush a couple of generations later: “That was some weird shit.” His speech was rambling and disjointed, and punctuated every few lines with what I can only describe as a “mad scientist” cackle. Off-putting doesn’t begin to describe it. I honestly think the candidate was drunk.

I thought Kennedy’s treatment of Carter at the podium later that year disgraceful. I flinch to disclose that come November I voted for John Anderson, because I was peeved at Carter for resuscitating Selective Service registration (I’d aged out by then, but memories of the Nixon years were still tender), and because I never dreamed that the American electorate was depraved enough to award Reagan the laurels. This taught me for all time that to spurn the (perceived) lesser of two evils serves only to engorge the greater, a lesson which, it pains me to report, has eluded some of my friends from 1980.

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Sep 25, 2022Liked by James Fallows

History professor here, and I love "if" history. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., had a favorite: A car that hit a man crossing 5th Avenue in New York City between 76th and 77th in 1931. The man was all right, but wrote about the odd sensation of flying into the air. What if the car had been going faster when it hit Winston Churchill?

Ted Kennedy accomplished so much, and yet there will always be those ifs surrounding him--and his family. And I remember a member of my family who was not exactly sympathetic toward him on most political issues saying that when you consider what he went through--the murder of his two brothers, and the responsibility that being the last male child entailed--he had a great burden to bear even without public life.

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