Retired Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant’s closeness to the late senator Ted Kennedy may have deprived him of the ability to consider Kennedy dispassionately or skeptically. But he did have insights into Kennedy’s character and thinking that were rare for a journalist to attain.
So I highly recommend Oliphant’s review of Kennedy’s posthumous memoir, “True Compass,” which appears in a new quarterly journal called Democracy. According to Oliphant, Kennedy’s personal tone, his serious consideration of Catholic social-justice ideas and his remorse over his personal failings come through in ways that were rarely heard outside the circle of his family and close friends. Oliphant writes:
Introspection was never a Kennedy strength or habit, but “True Compass” has surprised and astonished those who knew him well. That includes me, a baby reporter in the late 1960s gleefully sucked into the vortex of Kennedy’s involvement in all the burning issues of his time. I dealt with him for 40 years in a happy evolution from quasi-student to willing accomplice on scores of causes (some hopeless, many successful) to something more personal; my real bias is that I never stopped being stunned by his work ethic, his relentlessness and diligence, not to mention his kindness.
Above all, Oliphant invokes a time when Kennedy was part of a better Senate — less ideological, less money-driven than today’s circus. Sadly, it makes you realize that if it seems Kennedy’s likely successor, Martha Coakley, may be unable to fill his shoes, neither could a young Ted Kennedy himself, given how the institution has diminished in stature and seriousness.