"There but for the grace of God go I." I imagine our forefathers played this 16th century saying over and over again in their minds as they crafted the Constitution of the United States of America – the most freeing document the world has ever known. When they were finished, they had set an unlikely precedent; for the first time in world history, government would be subservient to their citizens and not the other way around. Apparently, neither Ted Kennedy or his staffers got the memo.
My wife and I went to the theater Saturday evening to see the film "Chappaquiddick." We knew the story surrounding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. We'd read about it, we'd heard about it, but nothing prepares you for watching one of the greatest political scandals play out before your eyes on the big screen. It was surreal. I felt sad, enraged, powerless and walked away with several takeaways:
- The seduction of power is alive and well: Whether it's politicians, Hollywood actors or others in power, it's all too easy to become seduced with a person's position. We tend to ignore their character flaws because we're impressed by their success, their status. If we're not careful, we can allow ourselves to be influenced by people that don't deserve our admiration or respect. Such was the case with Ted Kennedy's peers. Because he was born into a family of privilege, and no doubt because he was an U.S. senator, those around him acquiesced to his demands, even to a point of covering up negligible homicide.
- True leadership is rare: Leadership is more than assigning a task and walking away, although that can be a part of it. Leadership requires a vision, goals, planning, encouraging your subordinates to reach their potential as well as holding them accountable, a passion to genuinely serve others, otherwise known as servant leadership. That's who our congressmen and women are meant to be. I'm afraid, however, that except for leaving a lady to die in a submerged car, former Sen Ted Kennedy is the rule to leadership in D.C., not the exception.
- Peer pressure exists amongst adults, too: You would think that once you've surpassed your teenage years, peer pressure would be a thing of the past. However, as portrayed in "Chappaquiddick," Ted Kennedy was surrounded by yes-men who didn't want to ruin his chances of a potential presidential run. Those who attended the party at the Massachusetts cottage that was co-hosted by Kennedy's cousin, Joe Gargan, the night Kopechne died, succumbed to the reasoning amongst their peers to protect the senator rather than report the truth. According to safeteens.org, peers can be pressured by insults, reasoning, rejection and even unspoken pressure by simply seeing all of your peers doing something or wearing something.
- Most people are followers: Let's face it; most people have no desire to be leaders. Whether that's due to personality traits, fear of failure or a lack of training, most people would rather ride the gravy train than create their own.
- Freedom requires accountability; no one is above the law: To me, the most disturbing part about the film was that Kennedy's staffers and his community held the Kennedy name in such high regard, they were unwilling to seek the justice Mary Jo Kopechne deserved. If America is to remain a nation of laws and not of men, our politicians and leaders must be held equally accountable under the law. Our founders broke free from the monarchy of Great Britain. Let's not disappoint them by enslaving ourselves.