Another related type of argument is to assert how he became interested in the various facets of politics that he made an impact on. For example, as a result of a plane crash and convalescing, he writes, "I realized that access to health care was a moral issue" (Kennedy 225). In other words, the way that he develops his political interest is determined by his personal experience. His view on the Vietnam War changed after an interview trip there. He uses this personal experience as the foundation for the ideas that he talks about, and it is convincing as a result. This argument from experience convinces the reader that Kennedy was authentic. Kennedy also includes many historical facts, which only adds support to his experience. Because he was so involved, his interpretation of the facts is persuasive.
The primary thing that makes one keep reading this book is the connection with eminence. The tale is storied in that it involves so many acknowledged important people and dignitaries. It is almost like reading the biography of royalty. The Kennedy family is legendary. The reader is drawn into a world of power and significance. The settings are often elegant and desirable, including famous entertainers. The decisions and events are important. This is what keeps the reader reading, as though he or she is participating in an epic of grand proportions.
One thing I would ask him is how, coming from such a privileged background full of wealth, high education, family prestige, connections, and dinner parties, he gained his view of the common person. Was it because of his grandfather, who loved people? I would also want to know about how he dealt with the comparisons with his brothers. Throughout the book, he looks up to them as heroes who achieved much and with whom he wanted to "catch up" (Kennedy 162). But he mentions no envy there? Was it all just pride and family cohesion? Another thing I would have like is a clearer explanation of how his early athletic drive impacted his politics. It is not clear how these things changed the way he thought about economics or government. I would also like to know why the Cold War with the Soviet Union was so emphasized in the media as an arms race, and more detail on what it was like in the Reagan years to deal with a Republican government as a minority.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the biography is Kennedy's statements about the President. He frequently, as with Johnson and Nixon, states that they have to go (Kennedy 342). This is not a view of a Senator that is common until election time. One of the shortcomings of the book, however, is that it does not really capture the interactions between the Senate and the military. This is an area that needs more explanation. How exactly is the Senate connected with the military establishment? Is it primarily through the Presidency?
Another interesting point he makes is how the comments of Reverend Falwell impacted him. This is significant in pointing to another area that maybe ought to have been covered more, namely, the relationship of Senators to mass communication or media. Should Senators really be influenced by the comments of non-political public leaders in terms of legislation, and if so, in what way? This is not entirely clear.
Without question, Edward Kennedy's book gives a great deal of detail about the operations of U.S. government. It shows how personal connections and behind the scenes meetings are important to decision-making. It illustrates the interactions between the Senate and the President, as well as Senators meetings with foreign leaders. Above all, perhaps, it demonstrates that political leaders, if they are like Kennedy, are driven by moral imperatives. Their legislative decisions are not based on whim. Kennedy's biography portrays a man of deep values who has worked to implement those values for the best of society, working through official and unofficial channels to do so. One cannot read this book without coming away with a sense of virtue in political leadership, and a greater understanding of campaigns and the Senate.
Kennedy, Edward M. True Compass: A Memoir. New York: Twelve, 2009.