Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Review

Once he found out he was dying, Ted Kennedy gathered his journals, diaries, and the interviews he did for an oral history project and turned them into his memoir True Compass. True Compass is a very engaging and readable book and is a quicker read then a lot of political memoirs.

A great deal of the book's readability comes from Kennedy's natural talent as a storyteller and the quality of the stories he has to tell. Many of the best ones deal with the lengths Kennedy was willing to go to during the 1960 presidential election(a photo at rodeo in Wyoming illustrates this point). Kennedy also went to great lengths to speak at the 2008 Democratic Democratic Convention soon after doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor. I thought I had followed the 2008 campaign closely but Kennedy shed light on a couple of details that I had not previously known.

The most difficult part of the book was reading about the 1980 election. Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination because of disagreements over health care. I admire Jimmy Carter and it hurt me to read of the continuing and long lasting rupture between these two men.

As to be expected from a younger brother(and a considerably younger brother at that) there is little critical said about his family. It is clear that Ted Kennedy has no time for many of the stories about his family and that John and Bobby could do no wrong. John's mediocre record of President is due to it being unfinished and that most the Great Society was passed because it was based on JFK's ideas and not because Johnson was better at getting legislation passed then Kennedy was. Also the book tries to protect Robert's image as ruthless and ignores such facts that it was Robert as Attorney General who acquiesced with J. Edgar Hoover's campaign against Martin Luther King. I can fully understand why Ted Kennedy is not critical of his family but I wondered if Ted might have been better served if he had been more critical of the lessons he learned from his family.

Kennedy's greatest success came in the Senate and he talks at lengths about many of them. He is also not shy about talking about his greatest political struggle and that was trying to achieve universal health coverage. Interestingly his proposal during the Clinton administration looks a lot like what the final product of this year's health care debate will look like. Kennedy's proposal included a "pay or play" version of the employer mandate and an individual mandate that included subsidies and a more regulated health insurance industry. I feel better about the this year's proposals after reading about what Kennedy wanted.

You cant' tell the story of the last 50 years. without including the Kennedy family. There success and tragedies are integral part of American history. Ted Kennedy's role and importance is indisputable and True Compass allows a major player in a half century worth of history to tell his story in his own voice.

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