Ted Kennedy, Smith, Brown: Life’s Peaks and Valleys


The passing of United States Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy reminded us of the terrible incident in 1969 that claimed the life of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne at age 28. When then 37-year-old Kennedy drove off the bridge at Chappaquiddick Island, surviving but not able to save Kopechne, and not reporting the accident for hours, most thought his political aspirations had ended. But as we know, Kennedy went on to have an illustrious career in the Senate, pursued a socially progressive agenda, passionately supported key initiatives such as health care reform, and gained the respect and admiration of political friends and foes alike.


Kennedy’s death seemed eerily coincidental for those of us living in St. Louis, as it came on the heels of the plea bargains and resignations of rising politicians, Missouri State Sen. Jeff Smith and State Rep. Steve Brown. We hope that in their darkest moments, Smith and Brown can extract from both the example of Senator Kennedy and the lessons of Jewish heritage, that their lives, while currently forfeit to the system of justice, need not be permanently so.

Smith and Brown resigned their positions after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to obstruct justice. A 2004 election flyer used during Smith’s losing campaign for the United States Congress against Rep. Russ Carnahan violated law by failing to disclose who paid for it. This relatively minor offense would probably have earned a fine and nothing more; but as has occurred so many times in political history, the damning evidence of shared lies to conceal the original sin did them in.

We are saddened and disappointed by the patently unintelligent and illegal actions of two bright, progressive and young public officials, particularly those from within the Jewish community. In fact, Smith and Brown, along with the other four Jewish members of the state legislature, have frequently met with Jewish leaders under the aegis of the Jewish Community Relations Council for legislative updates. And in May the Jewish Light honored all six Jewish legislators at its annual meeting.

Despite such public recognition for their fine work in the legislature, however, the next order of business for these two men is repayment of their debt to society, to be reflected in their sentencing. But even in this darkest hour, it’s important for them to remember that there is life after apparent ethical death.

King David, one of our greatest leaders, had committed the grave sins of lusting after Bathsheba, his neighbor Uriah the Hittite’s wife, and causing her to become pregnant. He deliberately sent Uriah into battle with the express purpose of having him killed on the field in order to cover up his adultery. David’s child was born very ill and died before he could have the brit milah, the covenant of circumcision.

David had fasted as a means of teshuvah, repentance for his grave sins. When the child died despite his fast, David decided that he needed to devote the rest of his life to serving his people with honor. His career became his teshuvah, and the second son born to him of Bathsheba was Solomon, who was known for his wisdom and for building the First Temple.

Smith and Brown are 35 and 42, respectively. They have plenty of life left to live, and they still will after whatever jail time or alternative sentence is dished out.

Yes, their time as elected officials is finished, but in the grand scheme of things, that is but one way to render service to the community.

King David and Ted Kennedy lived lives of meaning and importance following their dubious conduct. Smith and Brown will at one point have the same opportunity.

We fervently hope that they humbly and passionately seize it.