That's not all they call him. Despite the wild swings of Kennedy's rhetorical hatchet that savage civil debate, the man is glowingly depicted in the media as a halo-ready statesman of the noblest order -- "the Senate's liberal lion," "the elder statesmen with the star power" and "the leading liberal voice of the Democratic Party." He's "an asset in the critical task of turning out the Democratic vote," and even "the Dick Cheney of the Kerry presidential campaign." (This last remark may not work as an applause line at Democratic rallies, but it appears to have been meant as a compliment.) Quotations attesting to Kennedy's "respectability" and "credibility" abound. He's all Camelot and no dark side.
But how respectable is it to label the war in Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam" even as American soldiers are engaged in combat? Vietnam was a 12-year conflict costing 58,000 American lives -- and even more Vietnamese lives, not to mention genocide in Cambodia -- that ended in failure; it bears no military or strategic resemblance to the war in Iraq.
And how credible is it to make the grotesque and baseless charge that an American president sent troops into harm's way as a political gimmick "made up in Texas" to get votes? Never mind that sending troops into harm's way is a lousy way to get votes.
But there's something else to stick in the craw, something that mars Kennedy's strangely immaculate reputation with the media. That something is the stain of Chappaquiddick, the 1969 scandal in which Kennedy, already a second-term U.S. Senator, left the scene of a fatal accident -- Mary Jo Kopechne's drowning death -- and failed to report it for at least 8 hours. Although this still-murky incident overshadowed Kennedy's failed presidential bid in 1980, it hasn't disqualified him from carrying the flag for the John Kerry campaign. Should it? That's Kerry's call. But when it comes to questions of morality, honesty and judgment, this liberal lion has nothing to roar about.