Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Remembering a person means remembering all of them

People may not be entirely good or bad

(Chappaquiddick's facebook page)

(Chappaquiddick's facebook page)

(Chappaquiddick's facebook page)

By Edridge D'Souza, Collegian Columnist

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The film “Chappaquiddick” came out this past week, and its subject matter has, predictably, polarized viewers. While film critics have praised the performance of the lead actor Jason Clarke, others have had dramatically different takes on the film which portrays the Chappaquiddick scandal of Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the late United States Senator from Massachusetts. In the New York Times, an OpEd  said that the film goes beyond artistic interpretation and into the realm of character assassination. The Atlantic, on the other hand, has characterized the film as “a damningly even-handed work.”

For those who disliked “Chappaquiddick,” one major reason is, of course, politics. Given the timing of the public release of the film, it could be seen as an influencing factor in the 2018 midterm elections in November. It could even be seen as an attempt to smear the political hopes of U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), a member of the Kennedy dynasty who some are speculating may run for president in 2020. Indeed, it appears that part of the movie’s success has to do with its popularity among conservatives and relatively little coverage from the left. After all, when the legacy of the Democratic Kennedy family is at stake, any attempt to unearth the past will be politicized.

However, no matter how politically disadvantageous it may be, it would not bode well for the Democratic Party to sweep this under the rug. Yes, Ted Kennedy had major progressive accomplishments during his 47-year long tenure in the Senate. He played important parts in the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, not to mention having galvanized his base to support universal healthcare as a major cornerstone of the Democratic platform. He was one of President Richard Nixon’s greatest opponents and helped set forth the response to the Watergate scandal. No matter how many accomplishments a senator may have, however, we cannot ignore the history of the person for the sake of their accomplishments.

This isn’t to invalidate all of Kennedy’s life accomplishments as a politician—in fact, quite the opposite. Kennedy played a massively useful political role in the senate and was vital to the passage of many important pieces of legislature. But in order to fully understand his legacy, we must also remember the dark side to the Kennedy name. A whitewashed view of history is not a complete view. If our society wishes to remember the good that Kennedy did, it must also remember the bad, that his negligence resulted in an innocent woman’s death and that, like many powerful people, he used his power to avoid consequences.

Many public figures that we otherwise revere are seriously flawed: Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, Franklin D. Roosevelt sponsored Japanese-American internment camps and Winston Churchill, as prime minister, had refused to supply food and aid to those suffering in Bengal, India during the 1943 famine. We tend to pick figures for their public accomplishments and lionize all aspects of their personality, but this view obscures some of the more troubling history that these figures had. An accurate view of history should acknowledge the accomplishments of important figures while also keeping the context of their actions as flawed individuals.

On the flip side, it also isn’t accurate to completely demonize public figures because of their unsavory aspects. Jefferson’s ideas helped give rise to America’s system of government; Roosevelt and Churchill helped save the rest of the world from the Third Reich. These are people who made important advances in society and civilization, but whom we must also remember not to unduly overpraise. Within their public service, they made important contributions to humanity, and we should remember them in the capacity of the role they took. At the same time, it’s important to remember that they were human and don’t quite deserve the unflinching personal loyalty that is traditionally given to them.

It’s entirely possible to make massive strides in human progress while still being a terrible person. It could be argued that most people who’ve gained public attention for doing something important have some morally dubious skeletons in their closets. Kennedy is no exception. As a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, he represented the Commonwealth and was instrumental in the passage of some of the most important legislature in the past half-century. As a person, he clearly had severe moral failures that deserve examination, but neither his accomplishments nor failures should obscure one another.

It is difficult to accept that people may not necessarily be entirely good or bad. While “Chappaquiddick” doesn’t give a flattering portrayal of an otherwise beloved senator, the picture that it paints is mostly accurate. Rather than condemn the portrayal for the way it inconveniences a political legacy, we should simply never let any one person or family reach that level of untouchability in the first place.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Remembering a person means remembering all of them”

  1. NITZAKHON on April 13th, 2018 6:33 am

    Ted Kennedy was a drunk, a letch, an adulterer, a murderer, and a traitor.

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