A lot of people noted the juxtaposition of Chappaquiddick and the Apollo 11 moon landing this past weekend but I didn’t come across anyone who quite got the full significance of the deep cultural connection (or, some might say, disconnection) between two events that, had they not occurred within 24 hours of each other, would never be linked by the Cosmos, let alone the blog-o-verse.
But linked they are.
They meant little to me at the time. The moon landing was an anticlimax. I was there for the liftoff and everyone in my neighborhood knew the time to worry was between the testing process (the space where Gus Grissom and his crew had died in the chillingly recent past) and breaking the atmosphere (the space where Dick Scobee and his Challenger crew would die in the not-too-distant future). It wasn’t until Apollo 13 that anybody had a clue space itself might not be a cakewalk and this was soon forgotten, to be remembered when they made a movie about it years later, after which it was soon forgotten again.
As for the other, I never really heard much about Ted Kennedy abandoning Mary Jo Kopechne to death by suffocation and drowning while saving himself until he ran for President in the 1980 primary season and my Florida Panhandle barber, a yellow dog Democrat not exactly enamored of Jimmy Carter, announced he wasn’t going to vote for somebody who “couldn’t even get a whore across a bridge.”
It was a long time after that before I found out Mary Jo Kopechne was a campaign worker, not a party girl, not that it mattered to me. That she was left to die–and the man who left her at best a craven coward, at worst a monster of moral indifference–always seemed the important part.
It was even longer before a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, a stone’s throw from my earlier Space Coast childhood home, made me realize what my friends’ dads had pulled off. They coached Little League, came to the churches their wives took the kids to every Sunday on Easter and Christmas, never missed a day’s work, asked us if we wanted to look like girls the second our hair or fingernails got too long, and probably hated Ted Kennedy a lot worse than my Panhandle barber did, not to mention more than they loved the Kennedy brother who gave them their mission in the first place.
And if they didn’t yet hate ol’ Ted, they certainly hated his kind. Some primal part of their being knew his swamp-dwelling breed existed to drain the American Experiment of the meaning they had invested it with; of all meaning, in fact, except the example it will provide to whatever desolate future the epic failure his kind imposed across the ensuing half-century has now guaranteed.
The only thing they have left is the one thing even the hero of Chappaquiddick, working overtime for decades to crush their old, ever-aspiring America like a beetle, could never take away from them.
They put a man on the moon.