Judge him on his complete record

A man for whom I harbor great respect and affection said this Thursday when we met: “I purposely avoided reading today’s editorial.”

I asked why. He said he couldn’t stomach reading about the subject of the editorial, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. “I have no use for that man,” he said, adding that he detested Kennedy as much for his private misdeeds as he does for his public policies.

My friend clearly was speaking for many thousands of Panhandle residents who share his view of Sen. Kennedy.

I know what he’s talking about. Chappaquiddick.

The tragedy of that terrible day on July 18, 1969 has been chronicled to the max. A young woman died after the car driven by Kennedy plunged into the drink late one night. The two of them had come from a party. Kennedy escaped the car; the young woman drowned. Kennedy didn’t notify the authorities until much later, and then had difficulty explaining his actions for the rest of his life.

The editorial my dear friend refused to read didn’t go into detail on that event. It was meant to pay tribute to a man who had built an unparalleled Senate career of achievement. The editorial noted that Kennedy didn’t have many friends in this part of the world, and acknowledged that Kennedy had been plagued by demons. He misbehaved badly at times, but fought his way out of that lengthy period of his life. He remarried. He sobered up. He became arguably the most effective U.S. senator in the past 100 years.

But the comments made me wonder: Is it fair to judge someone in public life on the basis of a single mistake? I don’t think so. Who among us would want to be remembered solely for one colossal misstep? Isn’t the body of a man’s earthly existence worth considering? Of course it is. Kennedy’s life includes many positive components: His caring for a huge extended family deprived of their own father figures (brothers Bobby and Jack) comes to mind.

Yes, Kennedy was a deeply flawed man. No one doubts that.

He merely was just as human as the rest of us.