Chappaquiddick: No Profile in Kennedy Courage

"In some ways it was the event on which [his life] pivots," said historian Norton Smith. "We didn't know it at the time, but it effectively precluded him from even becoming president, and yet from the perspective of 40 years, who would ever have imagined on that weekend in 1969 he would go on to be such an important figure, and not only in the U.S. Senate. He is universally regarded as a giant."

"He found himself in the ideological minority," he said. "His brand of liberalism was derided as out of touch and yet somehow he managed over and over again, often working across the aisle, with people who didn't share his convictions," he said. "In the end, it turned out fate had something else in store for him."

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