End of a Dynasty?
Aug 30, 2009, 4:27pm
A few weeks before the assassination of JFK in 1963, there appeared in the Washington Post a short article about the Kennedy Dynasty and the presidency. It laid out a possible scenario that John would serve two terms, Robert two terms and then Ted two terms as president. After that it was possible that some of the next generation of Kennedy children would be old enough to serve and a new era of Kennedy's would begin.
This would never come to pass. Some may even point to that article as a final launching pad for the events that followed. (Many believe that at least in the case of John and Robert that there were conspiracies involved. Some even believe that Ted was set up in the Chappaquiddick accident. And even JFK Jr.'s death has some unexplained and very strange details)
But what is truly apparent is the interest world wide in the Kennedy family, especially the three brothers whose lives were tied into the fabric of the American society and the world community.
The death of Ted Kennedy this week brought back a flood of collective memories of his family and especially the older brothers, John and Robert. Recently the sister (Eunice Shriver) and founder of the Special Olympics died but that event was limited to her accomplishments with handicapped children. But the Kennedy women never had the same charisma as the men, at least up to now.
Ted represented the last of the Kennedy political line of his generation. All commentators would agree that he was the lesser one in politics. He ran half-heartedly for president and soon withdrew apparently relieved of a powerful burden. He was the only brother who lived a long life, the others died young and under violent circumstances. Staying in the Senate for so many years (since 1962) he was guaranteed a comfortable and reliable position with little trouble with re-elections. Carrying the flag of liberalism certainly must have been difficult over the changing times, especially with Reagan and Bush I & II though he definitely persevered. One could argue that his political strength came from adaptability with the political opposition and his ability to compromise. But one could complain that he chose to take a backseat to power by even staying in the Senate, as if it were the safe way to go. It is only in his speeches delivered as a true Kennedy that one hears the power of the Dream, the echoes of John and Robert. The family Boston accent and cadence, the deep sense of understanding, and poetic use of words could establish a connection to the listener that resonated through time and space.
The real power of Ted Kennedy though was through the connection to his brothers and the shared sense of loss that many still feel, especially those who were adults during those tragic days.. A terrible thing happened in Dallas that day. And again in Los Angeles. The world was made "not right". And in some sense until it is "made right" then we are all destined to mourn for the loss and wonder how it came to be and what to do about it. With Ted's death it's as if we are all being drawn back to a personal sorrow, a loss that defines our age.
A personal story may help to explain.
In 1968 I met a young man in a Marin County, California beach town that had been working for Robert Kennedy in his primary there. The young mans job had been to canvass the area of Daly City, near San Francisco. He returned to his car after walking up and down streets distributing flyers and as he got closer to his car he saw what looked like a bullet hole in the middle of his windshield. He became quite upset. The area was certainly hostile but this was a new order of magnitude. But when he got to his car and got in he realized the bullet hole was a decal that was adhered to his windshield. The event was so disturbing that he returned to the office and quit. When I met him a day or two later he was just trying to make sense out it. I took him home with me and we talked about the incident, the campaign and what he was doing. He told me that everyone who was working to elect Robert was doing that because they believed that he would open up the investigation of who killed his brother and they desperately wanted to know the truth. A few weeks later Robert won the primary and was killed. Was he killed to prevent his opening up the investigation? Some might argue that without the power of the presidency the true story would never come out.
One thing that history will show is that the Kennedy family and Ted Kennedy in particular never supported any attempt to re-open the investigation of the death of either John or Robert.
In political terms the torch was passed to Obama to carry forward the public issues, especially civil rights and health care. And that may be as good as it gets for this point in history. But somehow that just doesn't seem enough. There is still a longing for answers. And with the death of Ted this week the dynasty question appears to be settled. But is that the case? Perhaps there is still hope that a new generation will step forward and start anew. And just maybe we can all get the closure to the murders that stain our past and haunt our dreams. Hope so!
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