Americans should examine the moral standards we hold politicians to

Americans should examine the moral standards we hold politicians to

“What can we do to help the Senator?” This eerie line is spoken by a young staffer in response to the news that Ted Kennedy was involved in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the new film Chappaquiddick, directed by John Curran.

The film details the events of July 18, 1969 and the days that followed, when Senator Ted Kennedy, the last surviving Kennedy brother, drove a car off a bridge near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, resulting in the death of his passenger, 29-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. Kopechne worked on Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential election bid, which was tragically cut short by Kennedy’s assassination on the night of the California Democratic primary.  

Sitting in the theater last weekend, I was astonished at the complacency of the Kennedy team as they covered the Senator’s tracks in order to save his reputation. The standard to which we hold our elected representatives is supposedly higher than that to which we hold our peers, but the film and the events it is based on suggest otherwise. For this reason, I believe it is a film all students should consider seeing.  

While the movie likely takes some artistic license, the facts remain. Kennedy was intoxicated behind the wheel of a car with a young woman who was not his wife. His negligence resulted in her death and Kennedy failed to report the accident for ten hours after the fact. Thanks to the Kennedy family’s close political allies and seemingly bottomless resources, the entirety of the case was concealed from the public.

Perhaps even more troubling were the final minutes of the film, which featured actual film snippets of interviews with Massachusetts voters. The interviews were conducted following news of the accident and the speech given by the Senator on national television, which included serval pieces of fabricated information.

In these interviews the voters almost uniformly agreed that, while the incident was unfortunate, they would be voting for the Senator in the upcoming election anyway. The epilogue further revealed that Ted Kennedy continued to be elected to the Senate until his death in 2009, making him the fourth longest-serving Senator in United States history.  

Aside from telling the story of what happened at Chappaquiddick, the film delves into the deeper and more relevant subject of the veil that separates us from the men and women we elect to public office. It provides a glimpse into the side that the American public does not see. It is this side of the film that serves as a compelling motive for students and all Americans to see it.

If Ted Kennedy could escape being held accountable for the death of Mary Jo Kopechene and go on to become the fourth longest-serving Senator in American history, then do we truly hold politicians to a higher standard of morality? Or do we refuse to look past the veil and continue to allow such individuals to be the face of our republic? Do we accept the falsehoods that are handed to us and go about our merry way?  

In an age where the accuracy and neutrality of our news sources are in question, the relevance of Chappaquiddick becomes all the more clear. Just as the Kennedy team in Hyannis Port was able to misconstrue the facts of what happened on July 18, 1969, the media outlets and so-called “investigative journalists” that report on the day in, day out operations of our government can mislead the public in a way that suits their agenda.

The most trusted man in America, news anchor Walter Cronkite once said, “In seeking the truth, you have to get both sides of the story.” John Curran’s retelling of the Chappaquiddick story shows us just how important the other side of the story is. As American citizens and voters, it is important for us to be mindful of the information we are given and to hold the officials we elect accountable for their actions. I would encourage all students to see Chappaquiddick as a first step in doing so, as being mindful of such things is vital in order to maintain the stature of our great American experiment.  

Jack Kitchin is a sophomore majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly. 

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