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

In 1968, on the funeral train carrying Bobby’s body to Arlington, as David hung his head out the window, Joe II was working the aisles. He walked up and back, telling the other passengers, “I’m Joe Kennedy, thank you for coming.” He was so natural that his mother, Ethel, would later say, “He’s got it! He’s got it!”

As it turned out, Joe didn’t have it. He had considerable talents, brains, a measure of drive. But as for it—he didn’t. And neither did any of the others. Michael Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy Jr., JFK Jr., Teddy Jr., everyone in the family who has shown so much as a knack for public speaking has been scrutinized for signs of it, but it has never returned.

It’s either a sign of blind hopefulness or evidence of a hopeless lack of imagination that we compulsively continue searching as well. But we do, and the more we clamor for a restoration of the dynasty, the more susceptible we will be to the Kennedy brand. Maybe the family feels the same way. In any event, we’re so far into the era of diminished returns that both parties should know better. But they don’t. The people raise a great cry; the Kennedys issue a new candidate. When that Kennedy loses or steps down, a new cry is raised. No one learns anything.

A few things could break the cycle. Young people who are terminally sick of hearing the previous generation talk about the ’60s, argue about the ’60s, condemn and apotheosize the ’60s, are likely to be immune to the Kennedy mystique, the promise of the it. Second, Barack Obama has usurped JFK as the epitome of the cool, collected, reasonably glamorous commander in chief. Finally, there’s the matter of real political power. The Kennedys have been prodigious fundraisers, but a good deal of that was a result of Ted’s omnipotence. One family friend told me that giving money to a Kennedy or a Kennedy cause was always attractive because “if you needed something later, you had a chit to get through to Ted Kennedy.”

The Kennedys are well aware of the threat of their political currency deflating with Ted gone, and they will no doubt launch a renewed bid to reestablish their dominance in American government. This will involve selling that old tonic, pushing new candidates out onto that stage, assuming they can rely upon that Pavlovian response by the voters. This is as much of an indictment of us as them. Enough is enough. All political dynasties rely on a certain thoughtless devotion to one surname or another, but that devotion can be undone simply by asking ourselves why we keep voting for these people. If we do that, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s only one way to really honor that old mystique: Allow it to end.


  • 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.