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

By Joe Keohane | Boston Magazine |

Even the rare victories hardly hark back to the family’s glory days. Ted’s son Patrick, currently the longest-serving Kennedy, has held fast to his Rhode Island House seat despite substance-abuse problems and a social awkwardness that’s staggering to behold in a professional politician. ("He is one of the most uncomfortable-looking people I’ve ever seen in public," a veteran Rhode Island Democratic strategist told me. "He shakes, his voice tremors, and you feel sort of bad for him.") And, of course, there’s Joe Kennedy II. Despite his 12-year stint as a U.S. representative, he decided to opt out of running for Ted’s seat, content with helming his populist quasi-nonprofit, Citizens Energy (which enables him to earn more than half a million dollars while furnishing Hugo Chavez with a running PR victory).

For years, Kennedys have regarded running for office the same way other white, overeducated children of privilege regard grad school. It’s a fallback, the thing to do if you can’t do anything better. Fortunately, they have increasingly shown an affinity for something better. Joe II aside, the family these days is deeply involved in activities that can be seen to further the mission set forth by the previous generation of Kennedys. Bobby Jr. is a well-known environmental lawyer; Bobby’s daughter Rory Kennedy is an award-winning documentarian; her brother Max Kennedy is a renowned writer who cofounded the Urban Ecology Institute at BC; Bobby Shriver started the "Red" campaign with Bono to combat AIDS in Africa; Mark Shriver is the vice president and managing director of Save the Children; Tim Shriver became CEO of the Special Olympics after spending years working with poor youths; Caroline has worked on education issues in New York; Anthony Shriver founded Best Buddies; Mary Kerry Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights; and so on. Collectively, they serve on too many boards to count.

The cynical view is that the children of the rich favor charity because giving out money is the one thing it’s impossible to fail at. But still, as a family, the Kennedys have a genuine knack for it. People tend to open their wallets for them, so this line of work allows them to at once serve and avail themselves of the family name, remaining in public life without diluting the brand with any more shoddy campaigns. It calls to mind something JFK Jr. told a friend in the ’90s, before he died. Echoing Lord Acton, wittingly or not, Kennedy said that after reading a lot of biographies, "it occurs to me that most of the great men I read about were not really good men. It would not be that difficult, given my circumstances, to become regarded as great, but I think a much more interesting challenge would be to be a good man."

While the ruthless and single-minded Joe Sr. would undoubtedly pronounce this the talk of an irredeemable loser, it’s both a noble challenge and an admirable sentiment. Not something you’d expect to come from the Kennedys, after one generation of power-lust and another of scandal and dissipation. Of course, it isn’t the sort of thing the Kennedys’ legions of fawning supporters want to hear, either. Even now. What those people want to hear is that more Kennedys are running. The more the better. A whole galaxy of new Kennedys, lighting up an otherwise forbidding and starless sky.

  • 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.