I’m Not Going to Be President
I’m Not Going to Be President
The prophetic words, “I’m not going to be President” were the first words spoken by Senator Ted Kennedy to his cousin and attorney Joe Gargan and friend and US Attorney Paul Markham in the movie Chappaquiddick – the film detailing the hours before and after the death of political staffer Mary Jo Kopechne – the film the Kennedy family apparently tried to quash. I didn’t shed a tear when Ted Kennedy finally kicked the bucket and set out on his road to hell – not because I disagreed with his politics (there are plenty of politicians with whose views I disagree, and I don’t want them dead), but because Ted Kennedy was a repulsive, self-absorbed, arrogant miscreant, who got off with a slap on the wrist for causing the death of an innocent young woman.
All because he was a Kennedy.
The movie reaffirmed my feelings for the filthy piece of crap they called “the Lion of the Senate,” which should have really been “the Lyin’ of the Senate,” given how many lies he told to save his own fat, flabby ass in the days after leaving Kopechne to slowly suffocate to death in a submerged vehicle, and made me want to visit his grave and leave a bag of flaming dog shit on it.
This is a testament to the incredible performance by Australian actor Jason Clarke as Senator Ted Kennedy. The film didn’t try to paint Kennedy as a sympathetic figure, but Clarke’s performance was nuanced enough to show guilt (only a true sociopath wouldn’t feel guilt after leaving an innocent woman to die in a car he crashed while driving drunk), but also show that streak of entitlement, arrogance, and cowardice that could only come with being American royalty, handed everything from a young age and accustomed to special treatment and getting what he wants.
I won’t rehash the events that lead up to and that followed Kopechne’s death. They’re well known.
But what people seem to ignore are the actions of Kennedy himself portrayed in the movie.
It was always about Teddy – the flabby, unattractive underachiever, existing in the vast shadow of his brothers, looked upon with disdain by his father, but entitled and arrogant anyway by virtue of being a Kennedy.
His first words to Gargan and Markham after the accident were, “I’m not going to be president.” He wasn’t worried about Kopechne or the fact that his drunk driving left an innocent woman to die underwater. He was worried about his upcoming presidential campaign and how to best cover up his involvement. The limited amount of internal conflict he appears to have experienced about whether or not to admit he was driving the car that fateful night was about Teddy – not about honor or integrity; it was always about Teddy and how to best portray himself as worthy of being President.
Every word that came out of his mouth in the events following Kopechne’s tragic was calculated to ensure that he still retained his political career – from the lies he told Kopechne’s parents on the phone to the fake neck brace he wore to the funeral, to the concocted story about a “concussion” he unsuccessfully tried to sell to a New York Times reporter by claiming he was prescribed sedatives (which would never be prescribed in the event of said head injury), to the continued pleas of “I need you,” to Joe Gargan, the Kennedy family “fixer” portrayed with delicacy and a sense of sorrow and guilt by Ed Helms, whom I only remembered as one of the doofuses in the Hangover, but will now remember for a very refined, subtle performance as Gargan, who is sick and tired of Teddy’s lies, but feels conflicted because of his loyalty to the Kennedy clan.
“I need you.”
When Gargan tries to convince him to do the right thing, Teddy uses the “we are flawed human beings” excuse to imply that even though he is flawed, he still deserves to be President. “Moses had a temper, Peter betrayed Jesus, I have Chappaquiddick,” he tells Gargan, as if his bankrupt, disappointing life is somehow comparable to these titans.
“Yeah, Moses had a temper,” Gargan replies, “but he never left a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea.”
When Gargan writes a resignation speech for Kennedy, showing him to be an honorable, honest man with a fundamental sense of decency, Kennedy seems to consider it for a moment, and one thinks that maybe, JUST MAYBE, he will do the right thing.
But we know better.
Instead, he reads the speech Gargan wrote before the broadcast of his infamous speech, dumps it in the circular file, and forces Gargan to hold the cue cards as he reads a prepared speech full of lies given to him by the manipulators who helped propel and keep the Kennedys at the top of the food chain of American politics.
That’s when the internal conflict goes away. Teddy Kennedy becomes the very epitome of the lying sack of shit we knew him to be in real life. It’s in this speech where he cements his place in history as an immoral, repugnant, entitled, and inept jerk intent on only preserving his own power and authority.
There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo’s conduct on that or any other occasion — and the same is true of the other girls at that party — that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character. Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.
Little over one mile away, the car that I was driving on an unlit road went off a narrow bridge which had no guard rails and was built on a left angle to the road. The car overturned in a deep pond and immediately filled with water. I remember thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head that I was for certain drowning. Then water entered my lungs and I actual felt the sensation of drowning. But somehow I struggled to the surface alive.
I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and alarm. My conduct and conversations during the next several hours, to the extent that I can remember them, make no sense to me at all.
Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion, as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical and emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or on anyone else.
Except he did. He attempted to blame Joe Gargan for his own failure to call the police and report the incident – a failure that, based on what we saw in the film, could have saved Kopechne’s life.
In this very speech he blamed the road construction. There were no guard rails, you see. The road was unlit. The bridge was narrow. And of course, he wasn’t drinking! No way!
But what really struck me wasn’t Ted Kennedy’s lies, entitlement, selfishness, and cowardice. What struck me most was the public reaction to his speech. The movie’s last scenes were reels of interviews with Massachusetts voters who, with blank stares, say he seemed sincere and they would still vote for him. This is a pathetic statement on our society and America’s voters, and unfortunately nothing has changed.
America still elects morally corrupt, ignorant, arrogant individuals to public office, because that’s what they’ve always done. Because they’re Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, or *insert famous name here.* The voting public doesn’t seem to have changed a whole lot since those days.
Remember when Donald Trump said in 2016 that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and he still wouldn’t lose any voters?
He wasn’t wrong. He understood just how uninformed and zealous the public tends to be about its heroes and about its political royalty, and Chappaquiddick’s ending shots confirmed he was 100 percent right.
It isn’t new, but it is depressing.
The cast and performances in this movie were top notch. The film ignited a fire of hatred in me for Kennedy that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I sat through it with my fists clenched, and realized afterward that it was a testament to the superb work of the actors and director.
It was a terrific movie, and it was well worth seeing. Just don’t expect to come out of the theater with your curiosity satisfied and your anger quelled.