When Teddy Met Yuri

Bork smearer Ted Kennedy sought Soviet help against Ronald Reagan.

The smear surge against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is certain to sweep in a tide of lies. That was the case thirty years ago in the 1987 hearing for Robert Bork, Supreme Court nominee of President Ronald Reagan. The smearer-in-chief was Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and something of a poseur.

His chief claim to fame was brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who narrowly defeated Richard Nixon for president in 1960. Ted rode the JFK coattails to a Senate seat in 1962 but his self-control issues soon plunged him into trouble.

On July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. Kennedy escaped unharmed but abandoned 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne in the car, where the young woman perished. In Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-up, Leo Damore showed how the Kennedy family deployed their influence to quash investigations of the incident and shield Ted from accountability.

JFK’s brother got only a two-year suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident and in 1970 was reelected to the U.S. Senate. There he became an object of derision even to liberals.

“Every image that the Democrats have to overcome – that they overtax the Middle Americans, try to meet social problems only with a proliferation of programs, are the junior partners of vociferous but marginal interest groups, look too carelessly at the credentials of the Third World movements and leaders, and neglect the security of the nation and of the free world – is kept alive by this buffoon.” That was Henry Fairlie in a 1987 New Republic piece headlined, “Hamalot: The Democratic Buffoon-in-Chief.”

As it later emerged, Ted Kennedy was also a pioneer in seeking the influence of hostile foreign powers in the American electoral process. In 1984 Sen. Ted Kennedy sought help from the Soviet Union, then headed by the KGB’s Yuri Andropov, an old-line Stalinist. Kennedy offered to lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet boss would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election.

The gambit failed, and Reagan won in a landslide over both the Democrats’ Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro and Communist Party USA candidates Gus Hall and Angela Davis. In 1987, Reagan’s nominee for the Supreme Court was Robert Bork, solicitor general during the Nixon administration, a professor at Yale Law School, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. With this highly qualified candidate, who was also a good man, Ted Kennedy took the low road. 

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions,” the Massachusetts Democrat famously said. “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 would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

“America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be.

“The damage that President Reagan will do through this nomination, if it is not rejected by the Senate, could live on far beyond the end of his presidential term. President Reagan is still our President. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate, and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

The buffoonish smearer-in-chief found allies in People for Norman Lear’s Way, which the leftist showbiz tycoon called People for the American Way. With a 58-42 vote against him, Robert Bork failed to attain a seat on the Supreme Court. The smear squad had carried the day.

Ted Kennedy would doubtless have taken the lead against Neil Gorsuch but the Massachusetts Democrat passed away in 2009. He should not be idealized or belittled beyond what he was in life.

With lingering charges of Russian influence in the 2016 election, Ted Kennedy should be remembered as a man who collaborated with a Stalinist dictator against a fellow U.S. citizen. With the Gorsuch hearing on the horizon, Kennedy should remembered as someone who saw Robert Bork, a good and decent man, and set out to smear him.