The Last and Best Brother

CAL THOMAS

August 05, 1993|By CAL THOMAS

The publication of Joe McGinniss' pseudo-biography ''The Last Brother'' has produced nearly unanimous denunciations by reviewers and commentators. Mr. McGinniss is more than a fly on the wall -- he is a synapse in the brain of Sen. Edward Kennedy, knowing his thoughts, analyzing his motives and the motives of others, and describing incidents and feelings by liberally quoting those who interviewed the subjects, including members of the Kennedy family (Mr. McGinniss did not). When in doubt about the facts, Mr. McGinniss, some reviewers have charged, simply makes them up.

Even if everything in Mr. McGinniss' book were true (and much of it apparently is not, if one is to believe the testimony of those who witnessed the events or who interviewed those who did), the book speaks of a different man and a different time. People change, some for the worse, some for the better. Whatever can be said of the former Ted Kennedy, it is clear to me that he is no longer on the road to self-destruction.

Twenty-two months ago, Senator Kennedy spoke to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. It was the year of his nephew William Kennedy Smith's rape trial. Comedians were getting laughs by ridiculing the senator. Conservative fund-raisers were making money by invoking him as the ultimate liberal bogyman.

In his speech, remarkable because it made personal observations most politicians try to hide, Senator Kennedy said he had come to realize his own shortcomings, ''the faults in my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them.''

It appears that he has done just that. In a telephone conversation last week, I asked Mr. Kennedy what kind of conscious effort he has made to redirect his life since the Harvard speech. He gave much of the credit to his wife Vicki, who he said ''has so immeasurably enhanced my life and has brought joy and happiness and emotional security and stability.'' He said his marriage and the ''re-entry of children into the household (Vicki has two) is a constant source of life. It has given me a renewed perspective in terms of things that are important.''

Mr. Kennedy told me of the ''darker times in my life when I wondered whether such things could ever be again,'' and he spoke of a ''renewal of my spirit and hope for the future.'' He even volunteered that he has begun to re-examine his ''early religious beliefs and doctrine.'' He said he is again attending church regularly (5 o'clock Mass each Sunday), and, ''yes, I am going to church more often than before.'' He tells me that his relationship with his sisters has become closer and that his three children from his first marriage appear happy.

Politically, Ted Kennedy hasn't changed much, and his liberal positions are fair game for columnists and politicians of different persuasions. But personally, I sense that Mr. Kennedy is in the process of becoming a new man -- certainly much different from the near caricature portrayed in the McGinniss book.

Comedian Jay Leno has said he won't do any more jokes on ''The Tonight Show'' about Mr. Kennedy's past life because that life is no longer relevant to the present. I think that's a wise and decent decision (too bad he won't extend the same courtesy to Dan Quayle).

Kindness, encouragement and support for good decisions are better weapons for achieving desirable ends than hate, invective and ridicule. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then Ted Kennedy is well along, in Robert Frost's words, ''the road not taken.'' Even a conservative like me can encourage him in that way.

It's true that he is the ''last brother.'' But he could turn out to be the best.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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