WASHINGTON -- 'Tis the time of award giving in the great republic. Soon the Pulitzer Prizes will be awarded, always at the risk of raising to eminence a plagiarist or literary fabricator. The Oscars already have been awarded, in their case at the risk of raising to eminence an arrant fool or likely felon. Now it again falls to me to announce the recommendation of the highly secretive J. Gordon Coogler Award for the Worst Book of the Year. This year, the Coogler Committee has recommended "True Compass," the autobiography of Edward M. Kennedy, which is for me problematic. Sen. Kennedy passed away Aug. 25, 2009.
I always enjoy indulging in a bit of raillery at the expense of the year's Coogler laureate (you will forgive me). In the case of the recently deceased, raillery would not be in good taste. One does not make fun of the dead. In the case of Sen. Kennedy, I am, at least, assured that one of the long-standing traditions of the J. Gordon Coogler Award will remain intact. As in years gone by, this year's Coogler laureate will not make an appearance at the award ceremony. Actually, I considered asking the Coogler Committee to recommend another author so that I might have a few laughs at our laureate's expense. However, after reading "True Compass," I decided that it deserved recognition, though not on the usual grounds. Neither philistine nor stupid, "True Compass" is actually a charmingly written book, which is in keeping with the Kennedy family's tradition of employing fine ghostwriters. JFK did it with "Profiles in Courage" and, come to think of it, won a Pulitzer for Ted Sorensen's work.
At any rate, this book is, indeed, charming and conveys the sense that "Teddy," as he is called, lived a hearty and happy life. Moreover, he expresses a semblance of regret for the misery he caused some who crossed his path. What I have decided earns him his Coogler is that this book showcases at least two of the evils haunting American politics today, the poisonous partisanship that marks the Supreme Court nomination process and the commonplace acceptance of arrant lies about conservatives, particularly about Ronald Reagan.
For instance, Kennedy passes on the lie that Reagan and presumably all conservatives are racial bigots because of what Kennedy calls Reagan's "complacency and even insensitivity regarding civil rights." The evidence marshaled is Kennedy's misleading claim that Reagan "opposed the principles of the Voting Rights Act." There were actually two civil rights acts at the time, one in 1964 and the one Kennedy refers to of 1965. There were perfectly legitimate constitutional grounds for opposing them and another very practical and even prudent reason cited by both liberal and conservative believers in integration and civil rights, namely, the looming use of quotas and affirmative action.
Both became divisive issues, damaging race relations almost immediately after passage of the 1965 act. No less a liberal than Sen. Hubert Humphrey saw it all coming during the debate on the 1964 act, when he expressed his opposition to quotas, explaining: "Do you want a society that is nothing but an endless power struggle among organized groups? Do you want a society where there is no place for the individual? I don't." Predictably, the rancor has gone on for decades, delaying the arrival of the Rev. Martin Luther King's colorblind society. In fact, for more than four decades, liberals have treated this policy disagreement as a manifestation of racial bigotry among conservatives. In so doing, they have kept racial enmity alive and, as Kennedy manifests in his book, exploited it.
Actually, the liberals' contempt for conservatives is more intense today than it was during the debates over the civil rights acts. Kennedy goes so far as to accuse Reagan of beginning his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., because, in Kennedy's eyes, it was "the site of one of the most heinous racial crimes of the twentieth century." In 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered there, one of the many barbarities committed against such brave activists throughout the long struggle for civil rights. No historian has found any evidence that Reagan campaigned there out of racially invidious motives, and one, Steven Hayward, has discovered that Reagan was furious upon discovering the town's dark past. To allege that Reagan would exploit murder is shameless but an indication of liberal contempt for conservatives.
Equally shameless and contemptuous was Kennedy's treatment of former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in a speech that Kennedy proudly quotes, despite the obvious fact that it marks the beginning of the savagery we now see at Senate Supreme Court hearings, particularly when a conservative is being grilled. "Robert Bork's America," our Coogler laureate intoned, beginning a perfect concatenation of lies, "is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens." Enough!
Return to his line about evolution. From the evidence of Sen. Kennedy's book, it appears that he experienced no evolution whatsoever throughout his entire public life. In fact, it appears that emotionally, he experienced no evolution from the era of the caveman.
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