…But the Dream Should Die – Why Ted Kennedy Should be the Last Kennedy Ever Elected – Joe Keohane

By Joe Keohane | Boston Magazine |

That passage comes from Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s The Kennedys, and the peculiar thing about reading it today is how liberating it feels. Not so much to hardened Kennedy haters, who probably would think David was being a little too charitable toward his family, and not to Kennedy lovers, who would run to the nearest confessional after so much as laying eyes on such an obscenity—but to the rest of us, the people who don’t have a dog in the fight, who are perhaps tired of the endless talk of who will step up as the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty and help steer the commonwealth and the country through these trying times. Surely, the thinking goes, there must be another one to grab the fabled "fallen standard" that Ted picked up back in ’68. Otherwise it’ll just lie there on the ground like a forlorn rag.

Of course, any rational person should be able to see that, narrative-wise, the core Kennedy mystique, the sense of unfinished business that began with Joe Jr.’s death in World War II and ran through Jack and Bobby, ended with Ted. It was Ted who finally met the family’s political potential; who finally delivered on his brothers’ soaring rhetoric; who managed to become a fully realized public servant as well as a decent man. Undoubtedly, his concrete accomplishments over the course of his Senate career are what drew a lot of people to the streets of Boston to watch his hearse roll past. Yet you have to imagine that even more came to witness the denouement of the Kennedy story itself. And an amazing story it was, one deeply entwined with the fortunes of the country itself for a while there. But it’s over. That chapter is ended. Those days are done.

The turning point of the 2008 presidential campaign is often said to be Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama, but it was Caroline Kennedy’s earlier decision to uncharacteristically step into the spotlight and throw her support behind the candidate that really did it. What followed was a fascinating encapsulation of both the significance and the declining political aptitude of the Kennedy family. On one hand, Caroline’s endorsement was viewed as the Kennedys’ passing the standard to a new generation, finally moving to close the circle. On the other, Caroline seemed to mistake the weight people attached to her endorsement for real political support.

Were it only so. Last year, after Hillary Clinton was nominated to be secretary of state, Caroline ran an abysmal campaign for Clinton’s New York Senate seat. She came across as aloof and entitled, as if she shouldn’t have to work all that hard to qualify for the honor. Then she ran into hapless New York Governor David Paterson. The force of the collision created a black hole of political ineptitude that nearly consumed them both. That experience, says a longtime political adviser to the family, drove home the uncomfortable lesson that "just announcing doesn’t mean that people are going to put you on their shoulders and carry you around."

The casualness with which the current crop of Kennedys mulls running for office isn’t confined to Caroline, and it should be offensive to anyone who places any stock in the value of a democratic society. By the looks of the family’s win-loss record, maybe it is. In Maryland, Bobby Kennedy’s daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost a congressional bid in 1986 and the governor’s race in 2002, after winning lieutenant governor. Eunice Kennedy’s son Mark Shriver served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates before losing a Democratic primary for a congressional seat. Michael Kennedy, son of Bobby, mulled and abandoned two congressional runs before being ensnared in a sex scandal involving his teenage babysitter. William Kennedy Smith, son of Jean Kennedy, had considered a run of his own, but a rape allegation from a decade earlier (of which he was acquitted) rendered him politically inviable.

  • Andrea

    not to put too fine a point on it but calling Joe2 smart would be a shock to the folks at UMass/Boston who had to give him credit for “life experience” to have an excuse for a degree, not unlike the Herodotus of Hyde Park, Tom Menino.