BOOK REVIEW: “True Compass” by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, reviewed by Gregory Hilton

PHOTO: Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) in 1965 (NY TIMES).

I just finished reading Ted Kennedy’s memoir, “True Compass.” A conservative does benefit from some of Kennedy’s observations, and this is especially true when he discusses how the Senate changed from 1963 to 2009. The late Senator was proud of his close friendships with conservatives Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ted Stevens (R-AK), and said cross party friendships used to be essential to passing legislation.
He noted that rarely happens today and the atmosphere is far more partisan. One reason is that few lawmakers remain in the nation’s capital over weekends where they could develop bonds with their colleagues. The bipartisan dinner groups are long gone.
Don Ritchie, the associate Senate historian, noted “When Kennedy came, both political parties in the Senate were internally divided. There were as many Eisenhower Republicans as Goldwater Republicans. There were more liberal Democrats but a sizable number of conservative Democrats. There was never a party line vote on anything. There were ideological coalitions rather than partisan coalitions.” A filibuster was a rare and special event, and only one cloture motion was filed during Kennedy’s first year in the Senate.
Today, under Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate is run by a series of cloture motions. There has been an explosion in the number of Senate staffers, but that often means the lawmakers now rely of their staff and no longer look at their colleagues as the real experts.
Conservatives are well aware of the Kennedy scandals, and the late Senator said “I have enjoyed the company of women. I have enjoyed a stiff drink or two or three, and I’ve relished the smooth taste of a good wine. At times, I’ve enjoyed these pleasures too much. . . In the months and years after Bobby’s death, I tried to stay ahead of the darkness. I drove my car at high speeds; I drove myself in the Senate; I drove my staff; I sometimes drove my capacity for liquor to the limit. . . . I generally managed to keep my public duties and my private anguish separated. Whatever excesses I invented to anesthetize myself, I could almost always put them aside in my role as senator. Almost, but not always.”
Similar to Sarah Palin’s “An American Life”, this book was written in large part by a ghost writer. Palin wrote the first chapter by herself which is the best in the book. The passages actually written by Kennedy are the best in “True Compass.”
I was really hoping for more behind the scenes observations. Kennedy was not alive to promote the book, but it also suffered from a lack of original first hand accounts. The late Senator does deserve credit for admitting numerous mistakes in his life such as cheating at Harvard and during his first marriage, Chappaquiddick, and battles with the bottle. This would have been a far better book if Kennedy had not been suffering from a terminal illness when it was compiled.
I have read many books about the Kennedy’s. Unlike his brother’s, Ted was a serious legislator and was a fine spokesman for liberal Democrats.
I am glad the Kennedy compound will be open to the public, and I want to see it. There are many other things about Kennedy I do not admire. He was dangerous to our national security and it was awful what he did to Robert Bork’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

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