Physicists pontificating on politics is one of my favorite things. And Chad Orzel ’93 delivers here. Shorter Orzel: Mention the personal failings of politicians I disagree with. Ignore the personal failings of the politicians I support. See below.

Kennedy’s personal failings were many and well-documented, but at the end of the day, they remained personal failings. They were more than enough to derail any greater ambitions he may have had (I remember a conservative friend in college gleefully storyboarding the attack ads the Republicans would use if Kennedy ever ran for President), but they ultimately had little effect on his performance in the Senate. Whatever went wrong in his personal life, he was unquestionably a tremendously effective Senator, and it’s hard to find anything in his legislative legacy that you could seriously say was adversely affected by his personal issues.

Nixon’s personal failings, on the other hand, were miniature versions of his professional failings. He was a paranoid, vindictive, bigoted, unpleasant little man, and his administration was paranoid, vindictive, bigoted, and unpleasant. His character flaws led directly to his conducting a criminal conspiracy in the Oval Office, running a burglary and cover-up in an attempt to gain a trivial advantage in an election he would’ve won by a huge margin without any skullduggery. His contempt for the rule of law was breathtaking, and he enthusiastically embraced tactics in and around Vietnam that were, frankly, criminal.

And we know this because his petty paranoia was so great that he bugged his own office, recording the conversations that sealed his political fate because he somehow imagined that his enemies could do worse. It’s hard to see how, but that’s what he thought.

Ted Kennedy had his flaws, but they remained separate from his political career. Richard Nixon’s flaws basically defined his entire political career. That’s why it’s tacky-bordering-on-offensive to dwell too much on Kennedy’s personal failings in the wake of his death, and it was tacky-bordering-on-offensive to fail to mention Nixon’s.

Riiiiight. Ever get the impression that there is not a single (smart) Conservative/Republican that Orzel talks to regularly?

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