Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography

Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography

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by Adam Clymer

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Edward M. Kennedy is one of the most influential senators in Congress. For the last 35 years, he's played a major role in events ranging from the Vietnam War to Supreme Court confirmations. He's also been closely associated with issues such as health care, civil rights and campaign finance reform. More than the foremost lawmaker and best orator in the Senate, he's


Edward M. Kennedy is one of the most influential senators in Congress. For the last 35 years, he's played a major role in events ranging from the Vietnam War to Supreme Court confirmations. He's also been closely associated with issues such as health care, civil rights and campaign finance reform. More than the foremost lawmaker and best orator in the Senate, he's enthralled (and disappointed) a generation who saw him as the keeper of his famous brothers' flame. He's seen America — and her politics — change in drastic ways. In this definitive biography, New York Times Washington Editor Adam Clymer draws an in-depth portrait of this complex man. Through interviews with Kennedy, and the people close to him, he places Kennedy's career in a historical perspective, and observes how Kennedy's personal life has affected his political performance. The Senator has dealt with his infamous legacy, struggled to overcome the Chappaquiddick incident, and handled spectacular failures as well as many truimphs. He's one of the few old-fashioned liberals who has held the Democratic Party to its principles, and is a hero to many. This is a unique, enormously readable chronicle of one of the most fascinating political figures of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Edward Kennedy's career has been, by most standards, a rousing success: He's a respected senator who has represented his home state of Massachusetts for nearly 30 years running. And yet, as a Kennedy, he's often been held to a different set of political and personal standards than his congressional colleagues, which has proven both a boon and a detriment to him. In Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography, Adam Clymer, the Washington editor of the New York Times, explores Kennedy's volatile life and career.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few people are given the chance to live a productive life after they have become legends in their own time. Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy is one of them, and Clymer, Washington editor of the New York Times, does an excellent job of narrating how Kennedy navigated a burdensome family legacy to become, in Clymer's view, one of the most effective lawmakers in American history. By the end of the book, most readers will believe that Clymer has made his case. But this is no hagiography. Clymer started covering Congress as a newspaper reporter in 1963, the year after Kennedy's election to the Senate, when John Kennedy was president and Robert Kennedy was attorney general. He has observed Senator Kennedy at more or less close range for 36 years, a level of intimacy that mitigates against rose-tinted glasses. Indeed, Clymer explores Kennedy's legislative, political and personal failures as well as the successes. No serious discussion of Kennedy as a legislator, party politician, husband, father or friend can proceed very far without a re-evaluation of Chappaquiddick. Clymer's assessment takes only a few pages, but it is solid and insightful, putting the episode in proper perspective and allowing it to resonate subtly through the rest of the book without treating it as the defining moment of Kennedy's life. Clymer's deft explanations of complex congressional maneuverings are models of good political reportage, and his judgments of Kennedy's character are even-handed. This is an old-fashioned, balanced, well-organized biography that does justice to both the virtues and flaws, public and private, of Senator Kennedy. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy are remembered as the icons of modern American liberalism, but younger brother Senator Ted Kennedy has become the executor of their unfulfilled goals. Clymer has covered Congress for the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun since 1963 (one year less than Kennedy has been in office) and spent seven years writing this detailed work--appraisal more of Kennedy the legislator than of Kennedy the man. Drawing on more than 400 interviews, including 21 with Kennedy, he portrays the senator as a great statesman who effectively works both sides of the aisle with such unlikely partners as Orrin Hatch, the conservative Utah senator. Clymer acknowledges Kennedy's drinking and womanizing, which ultimately prevented any successful run at the presidency, but does not wallow in Chappaquidick and the notorious 1991 Palm Beach rape accusation of William Kennedy Smith. Although the writing at times becomes bogged down in detail when complex issues such as healthcare are discussed, this is likely to remain the authoritative investigation of Kennedy's impressive legislative record, surpassing Burton Hersh's The Shadow President (LJ 5/15/97). Strongly recommended for larger public and academic collections and recommended for most other public libraries.--Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Time Magazine
...[A]fter plowing through the facts of this Kennedy's life, one wonders what Clymer makes of this man. Is Ted Kennedy a failure? Were the burdens of these public tragedies he endured too much for anyone to bear and thus responsible for the youngest brother's shortcomings? Clymer chooses not to say...Concludes Clymer: "A son of privilege, he has always identified with the poor and the oppressed. The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits, but sails against the wind." The reader is left to wonder just what gives Kennedy the strength to do so.
Kirkus Reviews
The Washington editor of the New York Times serves up this thorough, generous analysis of the life and political career of the senior Senator from Massachusetts. Clymer begins this, his first book, by describing a November 1982 strategy session during which Kennedy decided—for the final time in his life—not to run for the presidency. Clymer then returns to 1932 (the year Kennedy was born) and proceeds in stout but unremarkable prose to explore one of the most remarkable lives in American political history. Clymer contends that the Senator's political enemies (mostly on the right) have fashioned a grossly misrepresentative comic-pathetic Kennedy-caricature: an overweight, besotted, tongue-tied, tax-and-spend libidinous liberal. To support his thesis that Kennedy is not only "the leading Senator of his time" but "one of the greats" in the history of the Senate, Clymer describes with painstaking fidelity the Senator's devotion to those causes most closely associated not only with him but also with his slain older brothers: health care, voting rights, education, women's rights, hunger, and poverty. No fair-minded person who reads these pages can deny the sincerity of Kennedy's commitments to the underprivileged or the facility he displays in the Senate. Clymer neither ignores nor wallows in the sordid aspects of Kennedy's life. In his Chappaquiddick chapter, for example, Clymer provides in full the statement Kennedy gave to the police (with all of its vile equivocations), but he concludes that there is "no reason to doubt" the claim that he repeatedly tried to rescue Mary Jo Kopechne from his submerged vehicle. Similarly, Clymer chides Kennedy for the reckless behaviorthat ultimately led to the 1991 rape case against his nephew William Kennedy Smith, a case that severely diminished the Senator's moral authority—and virtually silenced him—during the subsequent Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy. Well-researched and -documented (Clymer conducted over 400 interviews, including 21 with the Senator), Clymer's biography provides a hefty counterweight to the many strident distortions of the Senator's life. (16 pages photos, not seen) (First serial to Time magazine; author tour)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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A Decision for 1984

The early favorite for the Democratic Presidential nomination and ten members of his family gathered on a gray Cape Cod day on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1982. His chief aide explained how polls and television advertisements and a battle-hardened campaign staff could win not only the nomination but, with difficulty, the Presidency in 1984. In corduroys, jeans, and sweaters, they faced him in a semicircle of old chairs and couches in the living room of President Kennedy's old cottage at Hyannis Port.

Two of the group, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his brother-in-law, Stephen Smith, had been next door at Robert F. Kennedy's house twenty-three years before when John F. Kennedy's decision to run had been settled. They had been the youngest of the sixteen men who were there that day. This meeting looked very different. Not only were they the oldest men present, but two of the Senator's sisters were there, as were one niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, two nephews, Joseph P. Kennedy I and Stephen Smith, Jr., and his own three children, Kara, Ted, and Patrick.

Larry Horowitz, a physician who had taken over as the Senator's administrative assistant the year before, began by distributing two memorandums. One summarized the nation's political mood and described Kennedy's opportunity. The other forecast that the economy, now in the depths of the Ronald Reagan recession with unemployment over 10 percent for the first time since the Great Depression, would stay bad into 1984.

In November 1982, Ronald Reagan's Presidency seemed vulnerable. Democrats did not expect to be out of the White House for another decade. They had justpicked up twenty-six House seats, almost wiping away the Republican gains of 1980. With only a year or two of hindsight, it would be clear this was a false Democratic dawn. Reagan's own popularity came back quickly as the recession ended and a boom began in 1983. He was a master at political theater, capitalizing on moments like the ceremonies at Normandy honoring the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day landings.

But at the time, the 1984 nomination seemed worth pursuing. Several Democrats were seeking it, lining up supporters early, readying fund-raising machinery for the January 1, 1983, starting line, after which contributions could be matched by federal dollars. George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 had beaten crowded nomination fields by starting early, and Kennedy had lost in 1980 after a late entry. A timely decision was demanded.

Horowitz spoke of a campaign that was ready to go. In June, Kennedy had told a reporter that in 1980 he had made an important mistake that he would not repeat--"worrying about whether to run or not to run instead of what to do after I ran." So for months a shadow campaign had been at work. In early November, four supporters had taken every state party official they could find at a Democratic meeting in New Orleans to fancy restaurants, wooing them, flattering them, and stuffing them. Kennedy's people had worked effectively with aides to his most likely rival, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, to tilt the nominating rules away from outsiders. Decisions had been made about pollsters, a fund-raising operation, and clearly defined roles for the people at the top. With his own reelection to the Senate from Massachusetts well in hand all year, Kennedy had spent the fall campaigning for any Democrat who wanted him, picking up IOUs in eighteen states while honing a message of economic injustice and nuclear uncertainty.

Horowitz's presentation argued that the campaign was in place, that the race would be tough, no sure thing, but could be won. The staff was quite confident about winning the Democratic nomination over Mondale and the rest of the Democrats. The general election was another matter, they thought, whether the economy stayed weak or not. The Senator had told Horowitz that beating Reagan would be very, very tough, that Reagan had established a singular connection to voters that was independent of what he actually said. So why make an uphill race? Kennedy felt that a major party's nomination is always worth having, because anything can happen in Presidential politics and no general election is a sure thing.

When some of those in the room listened to the Senator prod Horowitz and draw him out, they sensed that he felt a political obligation to run and make the liberal case in a conservative age. But politics was not all there was to it, or else the family would not have been the audience. For perhaps half an hour, Horowitz laid the case out, describing the political pluses and minuses, such as polls showing him very strong in Iowa, very weak in Illinois.

The young people showed little interest in those matters. At first the cousins seemed to speak for Kennedy's own children when they scoffed at the survey data and the calculations generally. Then the Senator's older son, Teddy, interrupted Horowitz. Teddy was twenty-one and used to speaking up for the others when Kara, now twenty-two, or Patrick, fifteen, hung back. He said he really did not care about the numbers, but about "what is best for the family," for Kennedy himself and for his children. Danger to him was only an undertone. The fear was of how the demands of a campaign would take the Senator away from them and rearrange their own lives.

For more than a year Kennedy had been torn between the expectations of his political followers and the reluctance of his family. He had fired up his supporters with a speech at the party's conference in June 1982 in Philadelphia, sounding the old-time Democratic gospel and proclaiming, "The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties," grinning while Mummers bands in electric green and shocking pink led a completely unauthorized but carefully planned demonstration. In the fall, he had used his easy race for reelection to the Senate to test campaign commercials intended to blunt the "character issue" raised by Mary Jo Kopechne's death at Chappaquiddick. In September, he told an old ally, Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the House, that he expected to run, though O'Neill urged him not to. In Oc-tober, he persuaded Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa to abandon Senator Alan Cranston of California, a real long shot, and back him instead. They talked of campaigning for the Iowa caucuses with just the two of them in a car, with no press corps and no Secret Service.

And while Kennedy was insistently coy when asked if he would run, most reporters and most politicians put that down as tactical teasing, not uncertainty.

Copyright ? 1999 by Adam Clymer

What People are saying about this

Molly Ivins
This is unquestionably the finest political biography I have read in a generation. It does precisely what such works are intended to do -- not just tell the story of a man, but of an age. To tell the truth, Ted Kennedy has had a greater impact on this country than either of his famous brothers, and if you would understand how, read this book.
Wendy J. Schiller
In writing this book, Adam Clymer has accomplished a rare feat. He has produced a work that has great value to scholars of American politics as well as the general public, because it explains a single legislative career in the context of the changes in the legislative process that have occurred over the past thirty years.
—(Wendy J. Schiller, Brown University)
Doris Kearns Goodwin
In this monumental work, Adam Clymer gives us not only a rich, thoroughly researched narrative of Edward M. Kennedys life but a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of Capitol Hill. Here, in colorful detail, is an absorbing story of the personalities, maneuvers, compromises, ambitions and principles that combine and collide to shape legislation in our democratic process.
Michael R. Beschloss
Adam Clymer's book is the crowning work of a superb journalist and assiduous student of American politics. Edward M. Kennedy is an absorbing, original, judicious, unsentimental and fastidiously researched life of one of the grand American figures of the late twentieth century.

Meet the Author

Adam Clymer covered Congress as Washington correspondent for the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun, beginning in 1963, the year after Edward Kennedy was elected to the Senate. He has written for The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. Clymer lives with his wife in Washington, D.C.

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Edward M. Kennedy 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Writing a Kennedy book that fails either to dwell obsessively on the subject of sex or to prop its protagonist up in a haze of mythology would seem to be an almost Herculean task. Yet, Mr. Clymer has done just that. He has followed in great detail the legislative career of Ted Kennedy and shown that, although the man never did become President and had his share of personal failings, his constant labor on behalf of the causes for which he believes have had a gigantic, if sometimes unappreciated, impact on the country. Ted Kennedy is not the visionary that his brother Robert was, and he lacks the controlled detachment that President Kennedy had. However, Ted Kennedy's strengths, according to this book, are his persistence and his guiding principle that almost anything can be accomplished in Washington as long as you allow somebody else to receive the credit for it. He was never a President, but he has always been a politician...in the best sense of the word.