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50 years ago, a young woman—and a presidential candidacy—died

Teddy Kennedy Chapaquiddick
It was 50 years ago, on July 19 or 20, that Mary Jo Kopechne died in a submerged car that had been driven off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, part of the larger island of Martha’s Vineyard.  We don’t know which day for sure because we don’t know exactly how long she lived, desperately gasping for air, before dying of suffocation.

Her killer was Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy.  He killed her by driving while intoxicated, and then not reporting the accident to the police until it was too late.  A strong man, he escaped the submerged car but did not help her escape.  He called his lawyers and advisors, not the police.  He was more concerned about his reputation than about her struggle for life.  She died, but he went on to a long career in the D.C. Swamp, being hailed by Democrats as “the lion of the Senate.”

There was no “me too” movement 50 years ago.  Americans were not as aware as we are today, in the Epstein era, of the pervasive moral corruption of their elites.  And after the assassinations of two Kennedys, the nation was in no mood to bring the spoiled youngest brother to justice.  He got a two-month suspended sentence and went on to earn the continuous praise of his congressional colleagues—and not just Democrats.

What did die along with Mary Jo on Chappaquiddick was Senator Kennedy’s presidential ambitions.  We are used to our presidents killing millions in unnecessary wars, but for a presidential candidate to have killed an individual person under such circumstances—that would have been problematic in a presidential campaign.

Kennedy was still planning a presidential candidacy for a while, however, until the likely results became apparent even to him.  During that period I took a trip to Martha’s Vineyard for first-hand research into the incident, and wrote a major supplement on it for Human Events newsletter.  I was going to follow up with a book, to be called The Chappaquiddick Candidate, bringing to mind the movie “The Manchurian Candidate.”  I dropped that project when it became apparent there would be no presidential campaign.  Since then several books have been published about the incident, as well as a movie and a documentary. 

And I still have my memories of the doctor who performed the autopsy, breaking down in tears as he told me what it was like to have the all-powerful Kennedy clan descend on Martha’s Vineyard to intimidate him, the police chief, and everyone else involved in the investigation.  (Martha’s Vineyard back then was still primarily the small town of Edgartown, not the playground of the northeastern elites that it is today.)  Many things have changed in the 50 years since Chappaquiddick, many things have not.  Ted Kennedy was never really brought to justice.  Will Jeffrey Epstein be brought to justice today?

David Franke was a founder of the conservative movement in the late 1950s, as a member of the first Human Events journalism class, under the tutelage of M. Stanton Evans, and as co-founder with Doug Caddy of several conservative youth activist organizations.  He then became assistant to William F. Buckley Jr. at National Review and a founder of Young Americans for Freedom.

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Edward Kennedy belonged in jail, not in the Senate.