Ethics Progress: America Kicks Its Kennedy Addiction

For more than 60 years, descendants of tycoon/bootlegger/diplomat/influence-peddler Joseph P. Kennedy have held elite elected positions of power in the U.S. Government. The reason for this has not, in most cases, been the remarkable talents of the family members involved, nor their accomplishments, wit or demonstrated expertise on anything related to public affairs. Voters have elected the Kennedys because of their last name, because too many of them were lazy celebrity worshippers rather than responsible citizens.
The Kennedy Era ends officially when Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island vacates his U.S. House seat next month.  All right— there’s a Kennedy Clan member on a city council somewhere in California, but as far as the House and the Senate goes, this is cold turkey. No Kennedys will be in Washington, D.C., or will be likely to get there any time soon.

It is about time. Because President Jack Kennedy had a strong leadership style, the gift of wit, personal charisma, a glamorous wife, and, later, the historical good fortune to be shot before Vietnam could ruin his reputation, the American public kept one brother, Teddy, in the U.S. Senate despite negligent homicide and obstruction of justice that would have put most non-Kennedys in jail; elected another brother, Robert, to represent a state he had nothing to do with, and then put a string of progressively less-able sons, daughters and grandchildren into office despite growing evidence that Jack and Bobby were far from as admirable as their followers in the Sixties thought they were. As for the lesser Kennedys, most of them showed the proclivities toward substance abuse and misogyny that their forebears had exhibited, but without compensating hints of competence. Perhaps the spell lifted when New York Democrats briefly attempted to have Caroline Kennedy installed in Hillary Clinton’s seat, and Jack’s daughter seemed completely willing to take Hillary’s place without exhibiting the slightest interest in proving any qualifications for it. Yes, the Kennedys came to see political power as their birthright.

It is every American’s birthright, and the tendency of the public to vote based on fame, name recognition and DNA speaks of a weakness in our national character and a casual disrespect for democracy. A bias for families is no less irresponsible and unfair than biases toward race, gender, age or sexual orientation. Sixty years of pro-Kennedy bias at the polls is finally over, and perhaps that will help the public get a grip the next time a Bush or Clinton ends up on the ballot.

It’s a start, anyway.

3 thoughts on “Ethics Progress: America Kicks Its Kennedy Addiction

  1. I can remember numerous occasions when media figures of various stripe, would attempt to explain the apparent fascination with the Kennedys by asserting that America didn’t have a royalty, secretly yearned for one, and the Kennedys filled the nice. Hmmm. As an explanation, it seems wanting. I don’t recall ever hearing anybody outside the media saying something like, “Gee, you know what would really make our country complete? Royalty, that’s what.” A simpler and, I believe, better explanation is that media pundits are drawn to the notion of an aristocracy, and project it on the rest of us. The Republic will endure just fine without the Kennedys and, absent the media glare, they may find they can make a real difference without fame.

    • John Adams believed in an American aristocracy, but that it would be determined by good character, talent and intelligence. The Kennedys, whatever their other virtues, were all character-deficient; none were unusually intelligent (though Jack was certainly well-educated), and their talents were not especially unique or rare. What they had was money, connections, a certain ruthless determination, great press, great hair, and celebrity. They accomplished some important things, but they had a lot of opportunities. America does not need this kind of an aristocracy.

  2. I’ve often noted that, in every generation, the best of the Kennedys were the first to die. This was best exemplified by the most famous generation. Joe, Jr. died in WWII while testing a dangerous concept in how to take out the fortified U-boat pens and V-1 launch sites with a manned flying bomb. Jack barely survived the war, became President, and, while his accomplishments were mixed in his tragically short term, they had enough merit to justify modest acclaim… his personal life aside! Robert Kennedy turned out to be a political animal who used his name to insert himself into a political career that nearly led him to the White House, despite having no core values whatsoever. And Ted! “The Lion of the Senate” combined every fault of this older brothers with absolutely none of their virtues. John, Jr.’s death (by air again, as with his late senior uncle) re-asserted the pattern for the current generation.

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