Recently I read where Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island retired from public office making him the last Kennedy in a line of sixty five years in a national level office. Some people, probably of the liberal persuasion, consider this a tragedy. Of course, that is a misuse of the expression itself. Others are grateful hoping that the future does not provide opportunity for a new streak.
Which side of the fence you are on has a lot to do with how old you are. Many of us remember when Ted Kennedy in 1969 left the scene of an accident that involved the death of a campaign staffer for his late brother Robert. Somehow the car Ted drove ended up at the bottom of a Chappaquiddick water channel with a young lady in it. A medical report asserted that Mary Jo Kopechne did not die right away but possibly up to two hours later while trapped in the submerged vehicle. No one ever got a straight answer from Ted as to why he did not report the incident immediately to authorities but rather, as he claimed, tried to help her with the assistance of two others who had been to the party he had just left. The tragic event killed his chances for running for President in 1972 because public opinion around the country- maybe not so much in Massachusetts- was that he could not be counted on in a crisis.
Ted stayed a senator for several decades always pushing legislation that spoke to a liberal agenda. That’s fine if you have a lot of spare change to throw around. You can afford to be generous with other people’s money. Those on the low end of the economic ladder were also happy as they were the recipients of his largess. The rest of the country- those who had to foot his kindness bills while struggling to pay their own bills- never did take a cotton to Teddy.
Then there is Ted’s older brother John who did get to be President of the United States, thanks in part to Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago. The 1960 election race was very close indeed. The country was evenly split between a fellow who had to shave a couple of times a day- Richard Nixon- and the preppy, youthful looking John. Even with his telegenic magnetism, John still had a close call in getting enough votes. A big segment of the public didn’t like the idea of a Catholic leader fearing he would be taking orders from the Pope.
There was also a question if John was the angel he appeared to be on camera. Years after both his and Marilyn Monroe’s early exits, innuendo spread that they had an ongoing affair while he was in office and that he even shared her with brother Bobby. There were doubts that he had even written Profiles In Courage for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. The famous newsman Mike Wallace interviewed Drew Pearson in 1956 and Drew alleged that Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote the book from outlines provided by John. Kennedy wanted to sue when Wallace and Pearson refused to back down. But the ABC network got cold feet and provided a full on-air retraction.
Years later, Sorensen in his 2008 autobiography asserted that he did do most of the writing. He said John had remorse by 1957 and gave Sorensen half the monetary award for the effort. Sorensen then told Kennedy that he preferred to keep the authorship the way it was for the sake of history as well as market value. There have also been questions to the accuracy of all that had been put in writing, especially the chapter on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.
Tragedy as well as bad luck has plagued the House of Kennedy. Some people blame it on the sins of the family patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. He made millions during the Depression on the backs of desperate people who could no longer afford to pay for the property they owned. That in itself is no crime, but it did not endear him to the Public with his smug attitude. He was Ambassador to Great Britain at the outset of World War Two and agreed to be recalled as he opined that the British were incapable of holding out against the Germans. He was for appeasement with Hitler.
Time will tell if a new legacy for the Kennedy Clan with arise like the young phoenix of mythology.