The End Of An Error

It seems like everyone else is talking about how the retirement of Representative Patrick Kennedy marks the end of an era — the first time in 63 years there hasn’t been member of the Kennedy family in office. I’ve gotten more than my share of mileage out of kicking the Kennedys, so I figured I might as well get my two cents in.

In 1947, Navy veteran John F. Kennedy entered the House of Representatives, and that’s where his family’s legacy has ended. But for all that time, only five members have held federal office.

John F. Kennedy: House, 1947-1953; Senate, 1953-1961; President, 1961-1963.
Robert F. Kennedy: Attorney General, 1961-1964; Senate, 1965-1968.
Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy: Senate, 1963-2009.
Joseph P. Kennedy II (Robert’s son): House, 1987-1999.
Patrick Kennedy (Ted’s son): House, 1995-2011.

It’s remarkable. From Jack through Patches, it’s like watching evolution in reverse. It makes me doubt Darwin’s theory.

Actually, it follows the way many dynasties end up — the drive that led them to power gets diluted by the sense of privilege and entitlement, and ends up in corruption and venality. Jack and Bobby were the best of the lot. Ted, he was the family Falstaff. His father never really thought much about Ted — he had his plans built around his first three sons, and named #4 after his chauffeur and procurer — but fate had different plans for Joe Jr., Jack, and Bobby. When it came down to just Teddy, it was too late — he was already a lost cause.

Joe II was often ranked as one of hte dumbest members of Congress, and Patches had so many issues, he should never have been trusted with any kind of authority. He even bragged about how he’d “never worked a fucking day in my life,” an a rare moment of candor (fueled by alcohol, apparently).

I have to suspect that Patches’ retirement had a great deal to do with his father’s death. As he noted, he’s never had a real job, just drifted into the family business, showed up occasionally, and collected his paycheck. It might have been OK, with Dad around to keep a gimlet eye on things and clean up Patches’ messes, but now that he’s gone, Patches doesn’t have to worry about disappointing him.

But there’s one aspect of the Kennedy story that hasn’t been discussed much — the family finances.

Old Joe (father of Jack, Bobby, and Ted) was a hell of a rich man — and he built his fortune himself. I won’t say he earned it honestly, but he did it with his own hands. Say what you want to about the old man (I certainly have), but the guy knew how to make a buck and left his family quite well off.

Joe was also a Catholic, as are most of his descendants — at least nominally. (There are at least one or two “heretics” who’ve formally left the faith.) The most prominent among them have been really lousy Catholics, by most standards, but they keep professing the faith.

Which means that they tend to have a lot of kids.

Old Joe fathered eight children, five of whom had children of their own. Jack only had two and Ted three, but Bobby had 11, Eunice five, Patricia four, and Jean four — 29 grandchildren. And those grandchildren have plenty of kids of their own.

And not one of them has even tried to restock the family coffers. Not one of them has gone into business or finance. Oh, some have them have married well, but the closest any of them have come to real success is Joe II — he started a non-profit that supplies fuel oil and other assistance for the poor, as well as paying him a very healthy annual salary on the high side of half a million a year.

Others have done OK for themselves. Bobby’s son Max is a pretty fair historian and author. Max’s brother Doug is a reporter for Fox News, of all things. Their cousin Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger was a journalist, too, before marrying the Governator. (My pet theory on that marriage: they’re trying to breed a bulletproof Kennedy.) On the other hand, Robert Jr. is an environmental lawyer, activist, and moonbat.

The precise amount of the Kennedy family fortune isn’t easy to find out, but it’s pretty obvious that the heirs of Old Joe have,. collectively, spent a hell of a lot more than they’ve put back.

So we’ve reached the end of the line of Kennedys in office — a false sort of dynasty, dominated by Ted’s way-too-long tenure. He personally accounted for 48 of those years. Remove Bobby and Joe II, and it’s still uninterrupted.

But for the first time since Harry Truman was still filling out FDR’s fourth term, we have no Kennedys to govern us.

Somehow, I think we’ll muddle through just fine.

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