The front page of the Washington Post’s style section offers a lengthy profile of Rep. Patrick Kennedy, talking about how his 2006 car accident led him to a “career peak,” helping pass a bill that requires equal coverage of mental and physical illnesses by insurance companies.
But Kennedy’s story didn’t end at the wall. The congressman — who had already disclosed a battle with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, as well as treatment for cocaine use during his teenage years — chose not to listen to the advice of his handlers on the campaign trail nearly three years ago. He may have sensed an opportunity, or decided to make the best of a personal tragedy or realized he had no option but honesty. Whatever the reason, he chose to reshape the incident as part of a broader story about the need for better insurance coverage for mental health issues, one of several issues he’d been championing for years. Now that pet concern had become a cause.
The story begins with a short description of Kennedy’s 2006 car accident, in which he drove his car into a Capitol Hill security barrier, describing him as “bleary-eyed.” Actually, when he emerged, his ”eyes were red and watery,” according to the police report, which added that his “speech was slightly slurred and, upon exiting his vehicle, his balance was unsure.”
The article doesn’t say that a Capitol Police union official complained that police officers at the scene were not allowed by their supervisors to perform a sobriety test.
As Reason’s John Tabin noted, Kennedy avoided a night in lock-up by telling the Capitol Police officers he was “late for a vote”; the Constitution states members of Congress shall be “privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same.” Of course, Kennedy crashed his car at 2 a.m., and the House had adjourned hours earlier.
Kennedy eventually reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. Two additional charges of reckless driving and failure to exhibit a driving permit will be dismissed under the plea agreement.
A first-time DUI offender in the District of Columbia receives a fine between $300 and $1000, and may receive up to 90 days in jail and a six-month license revocation. Reckless-driving penalties can include up $500 in fines, three months in jail, license revocation and the application of up to 12 points against a driver’s record.
Kennedy was sentenced to 50 hours community service and $350 in fines.
Washington Post staff writer Vincent Bzdek — author of The Kennedy Legacy: Jack, Bobby and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled, released today — didn’t seem to find much of this relevant for his uplifting story.
It’s probably much easier to make a triumphant return from reckless behavior and addiction when everyone seeks to minimize the consequences of your actions.