Over the years, I’ve gradually lost interest in the Kennedys. My sub-niche of boomers was a little behind the curve for full Kennedy worship — I was 10 when Bobby died — and so even though I remember them, I was a little young to be defined by them. The Kennedys of my formative years will always be the third-generation crowd of cousins, the heroin addicts, party boys/girls, earnest government functionaries and occasional congressfolk of the ’80s. That was the generation that proved no matter how remarkable, even great families have a distinct shelf life. The pluck and ambition that launched the dynasty gets bred out of the line, money and privilege and divorce take their toll, and finally you’re left with Michael Corleone at yet another family party, sneering at Fredo to control his wife. Or the Bush brothers — Neil, Jeb and George. Your choice.
This is not a bad thing, I’m happy to say. America is still very much a meritocracy, and the last thing we need is a royal family, as much as we’ve tried to make the Kennedys our very own.
I also understand that Edward Klein, despite his fancy-pants New York Times-heavy resume, has a stake in keeping the Kennedys on their pedestal, the better to squeeze another book out of them. Even keeping all this in mind, it was possible to read his account, in Vanity Fair, of the Kennedys in 2008-09, confronting the imminent death of Ted, etc., and nearly choke on a passage or three:
Soon a dozen or so members of the extended Kennedy family circle—the senator’s friends, aides, political associates, and hangers-on—were all crammed into the hospital room, and the atmosphere in his V.I.P. suite began to resemble that of an Irish wake or, perhaps more accurately, one of those medieval paintings that depict the death of a great prince. Should it come now, the senator’s death would not be sudden and violent, like those of his three brothers—Joe junior in a plane accident during World War II, Jack and Bobby at the hands of assassins. Rather, it would be like those “good deaths” during the Middle Ages, which were performed, in the words of the French historian Georges Duby, “as on a stage before many spectators, many auditors attentive to every gesture, to every word, eager for the dying man to show what he is worth.”
In that solemn setting, almost the first thing on everyone’s mind was who would lead the Kennedy family after the senator was gone.
The next time I’m in the hospital room of a gravely ill person, I’m going to have to remember this: I’m not in a hospital room, I’m in a medieval painting. That’s necessary, however, to set up the mind-reading second graf, where the assembled are not concerned about the health of the guy in the bed but the far more important matter of who will lead the Kennedy family after he is gone. I don’t know what’s involved with leading a family with 2,836 first cousins — maybe booking weekend use of the Hyannisport house — but then, I’m a pleb. When I visit someone in the hospital, I’m just in a hospital.
It gets better. After Caroline is presented with her uncle’s “dying wish” that she take over the Kennedy chair in the U.S. Senate, well, we know how that turned out:
“Caroline was humiliated; she had expected that the appointment would automatically be hers,” said the Kennedy-family adviser. “In her mind, it wasn’t just that it had been her uncle Robert’s Senate seat, or any other aspect of her legacy; it was that she is a constitutional scholar who has helped secure funding for the New York City school system, that she’s acted as an adviser to her uncle, and that she’s a star of the Democratic Party. It honestly never occurred to her that the seat wouldn’t be given to her immediately. When Governor Paterson failed to react, and made her wait, she seethed.”
Caroline called a number of Democratic power brokers in Washington and Albany, and during those calls she vented her rage. This was a side of Caroline that few people had ever seen, or even suspected. According to one veteran lawyer who spoke with her, Caroline sounded like the old Bobby Kennedy—loud, harsh, and grating. (Caroline Kennedy did not respond to a request for comment.)
Yes, it occurs to me that people talk in this account exactly the way they do in National Enquirer stories. I guess that’s another upside of not being a Kennedy: You don’t have “family advisers” who whisper in the ears of would-be court biographers.
The news that comes from this passage is that Caroline was eventually called back from the brink of loud/harsh/grating by her children, who sat her down and told her she was being a real bitch, thus proving that accusations of bitch-hood are still kryptonite to a certain sort of woman. I’m with Tina Fey, m’self: Bitches get things done. Bitch is the new black. But I suppose, if it proves to a Kennedy that they still live in the United States, it’s not such a bad thing.
The story ends with some silly detail about Ted wearing a hat. Yeesh. (And at this point I think we should save a few of our commenters the carpal-tunnel stress and say: Chappaquiddick, Chappaquiddick, Chappaquiddick. Drunk, drunk, drunk. Teddy, Teddy, Teddy. Stipulated!)
Speaking of politics and dynasties and cancer, I’m sure glad I’m not John Edwards at the moment. How sorry do I feel for him? Listen to the sound the world’s tiniest violin and its terribly sad song. Hell hath no fury, etc. Although you gotta love a woman who tells Oprah “it’s complicated” when asked if she loves her husband. Hell, yes, pretty boy.
As someone pointed out low in the comments yesterday, the CDC came to my rescue, advising schools to stop treating H1N1 like bubonic plague and go ahead and stay open. And so yesterday’s mini-break was all they got, and everyone went back today. May I just say: Whew. It wasn’t a wasted day — we went down to Mexicantown for Cinco de Mayo lunch and had a chat about why middle-school rumors about who actually had the swine flu are evil, counterproductive and most likely just plain wrong. Of course, stopping a middle-school rumor train is pretty much impossible, although it’s a pleasure to take them apart. “My sister knows definitely who it was.” Really? How? “Well, she’s pretty much sure. Because there’s this kid who was sick.” And so on.
OK, we’re at 1,000 words and 20 minutes to 10. Time to start the engines and try to have a productive day of it.