Ever since the 1960’s,the Kennedy family has been the closest America had to a royal family. Built on an ill-gotten fortune and the martyrdom of three sons lost serving their country (Joseph Jr., killed during World War II: Jack, assassinated while president; and Bobby, assassinated while a Senator and running for president), they Kennedys have always been key players in Democratic circles.
But like most dynasties, the gene pool quickly needed some serious chlorinating quickly. The same generation that gave us JFK and RFK also left us Ted (Edward Moore Kennedy, named after Old Joe Kennedy’s chauffeur and procurer). And of the younger generation, they have distinguished themselves with far more ignominy than prestige. The sole exceptions seem to have been John Kennedy’s children.
After the death of Robert Kennedy and the appalling disgrace of Ted’s actions at Chappaquiddick, the bloom fell off the rose and the family retreated into relative obscurity. They were kept at an arm’s distance by Jimmy Carter, the first Democrat to win the Oval Office after Bobby was gunned down. And they repaid that insult by having Ted challenge Carter in 1980 for the Democratic nomination, but that plan was ruined by Roger Mudd, who asked the incredibly biased and unfair question “why do you want to be president?” Unable to say what he really thought — “because it’s my turn!” — Teddy fumbled and mumbled and meandered around an answer, and finally drove the nail into that coffin.
The Kennedys experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton publicly embraced them — and they allowed him to bask in the reflected glory and become a sort of Kennedy himself. (He was eminently qualified — he had an eye for the ladies, a huge sense of entitlement, and an absolute lack of personal ethics.) There were plenty of pictures of the Clintons sailing with the Kennedys, and doing all sorts of other chummy things.
Well, those days appear to be at an end. Apparently in response to the Hillary Clinton campaign’s increasingly crass attacks on Barack Obama (led by Bill Clinton himself), several of the more prominent Kennedys are endorsing Obama for president. Yesterday, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg (daughter of President John Kennedy) came out for the Illinois senator, and today Ted Kennedy (the drunken, bloated patriarch of the family) is expected to follow suit.
Behind-the-scenes rumors say that Bill Clinton made a personal call to Ted to forestall this, but was unsuccessful. As an attempt to minimize the damage, He got three of Robert Kennedy’s children — Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert Jr., and Mary Kerry — to come out for him in defiance of Uncle Ted.
A lot of people talk about the Clintons and the Bushes as attempting to practice “dynastic politics,” but compared to the Kennedys, they’re rank amateurs. No family has tried harder to build an American dynasty, and no family has ever produced so many utterly unqualified for true public service.
If the one lasting legacy of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president is the fragmenting of the Kennedy family’s power, then it will all have been worthwhile.