In January 1947, a Navy veteran and scion of a very powerful man entered Congress. Representative John F. Kennedy spent the next 14 years in Congress, but before he assumed the presidency his brother Robert moved to New York and joined him in the Senate. Then, in 1963, his other (surviving) brother, Ted, took John’s old seat (having had to wait until he was 30 years old), and for a brief time all three brothers were in DC.
Then, in November, John was assassinated. Almost five years later, Robert was also gunned down, leaving just Ted in Congress. He was later joined by Robert’s son Joe for several years, and after that Ted’s son Patrick came on down. Ted stayed in the Senate until his death last year, and in January Patrick will leave the House.
Which means for the first time in 64 years, there will be no member of the Kennedy family in Congress.
And that service has been a most remarkable demonstration of the reverse Darwinism that has been the hallmark of so many prominent American families — as the generations go on, the quality of the family members visibly declines.
Jack was the superstar. He had the charm and wit and grace that won him election after election after election, all the way to the presidency. And while he wasn’t fully prepared for the challenges of the office (then again, who really is?), he grew into the job and did a pretty decent job. His assassination, however, has turned him into a martyr and tended to romanticize his brief term of office, making it difficult to render an objective opinion of his presidency.
Robert was the “moral” one. He brought a passion for justice and fairness to the job, a fierce intensity that Jack lacked. He wasn’t the glamourous one; he was the moral warrior. And he, too, tends to be romanticized for his assassination.
I’ve always thought of Teddy as an American Falstaff. He was the last son, named after the family chauffeur (Eddie Moore). His father’s grand plan for a dynasty of presidents (Joe Jr., Jack, then Bobby) didn’t really have a spot for Teddy; he got shoved up each time he saw another of his brothers die while in public service. He found a comfortable home in the Senate, but not even his disgraceful conduct at Chappaquiddick could finish off talks of a presidential run — he had to take that on in 1980, and that drove the final nail in that coffin. He went back to the Senate, where he lasted right up until the day he died.
Robert’s son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, showed a bit more of Teddy’s influence than his father’s. Just before his 21st birthday, he was tooling around in a Jeep with a couple of other people when he flipped it. His little brother David broke his back, but recovered; David’s girlfriend, Pam Kelley, also broke hers, and she didn’t recover — she’s paralyzed to this day.
That didn’t hamper his political career. He was elected to Congress in 1987, staying in office until 1999, developing a reputation as one of the dumber members of that chamber. After getting out of office, he loaned his name to Citizens Energy, which provides heating oil to the poor.
Of course, simply doing good deeds isn’t enough. Joe had to put his own special touch on the enterprise. He made the whole thing about him, putting his name and face on billboards, starring front and center in their ads, and even branding their phone number — 1-800-JOE FOR OIL. He collects a healthy six-figure salary each year from them. And after Venezuela’s thug-in-chief Hugo Chavez gave Citizens a healthy gift of oil, he’s become a shill for the socialist tyrant. (Damned good investment, Hugo!)
Finally, there’s the departing last scion of Camelot, Patrick Joseph Kennedy II. (There’s a serious lack of originality in names in the Kennedy family — note the similarities between these last two.) Ted’s son inherited his father’s appetites for intoxicants, but apparently missed the gene for tolerance. He’s had a serious history of substance abuse, addictions, intoxications, car accidents (must be a gene for that one, too), and DWI arrests. In 2004, at a Howard Dean presidential campaign event, he drunkenly denounced one key element of President Bush’s presidency. “I don’t need Bush’s tax cut. I’ve never worked a fucking day in my life.” In vino veritas, indeed.
64 years, always with at least one Kennedy in Congress. For four years (1995-1999), there were three of them. Come January, we shall have to muddle on without their guidance.
However shall we survive?
Somewhat more safely and soberly, I suspect. But it’s my understanding that on the day Patrick passes into the Dreaded Private Sector, where he has never spent a single day (he was first elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives while a college sophomore, and truly never has “worked a fucking day in his life”), several DC liquor stores will be posting black ribbons in his honor.
But that’s still almost two months away. We’ll drive off that bridge when we get to it.