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Not Quite Camelot

Journalists, of the overt and covert liberal variety, went gaga yesterday over Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, his dutiful son and Rhode Island Congressman Patrick, and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg endorsing Barack Obama and all but crowning him as the successor to JFK. A “Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces was arrayed behind” Obama, gushed The Nation. “Kennedy focused on Obama’s ability to channel JFK-levels of inspiration and use good judgment on foreign policy and other issues,” crowed the ever-earnest American Prospect. About 100 journalists were turned away from the event, which says something about reporters and their love for these sorts of staged, media-friendly spectacles.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. Yet the Kennedy bug never quite rubbed off on me. In fact, my feelings toward the Kennedys have been quite the opposite from those of my parents’ generation. Perhaps it’s because I was born in 1983, long after the fabled days of “Camelot.” The Kennedys I grew up with weren’t Jack and Bobby, but Michael (who sexually molested his children’s 14-year-old babysitter and died skiing down a mountain while recklessly tossing around a football), William Kennedy Smith, and the aforementioned Patrick (whose antics frequently show that Rhode Island’s First Congressional District is the most forgiving in the nation, second only to the entire state of Massachusetts). Worst of all might be Joe Kennedy, a former Congressman who now spends his days shilling on behalf of the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

And, of course, there was Ted himself. I was a very liberal and politically active teenager, but something always struck me as profoundly wrong with the way people in my state lionized Ted Kennedy. I had a foggy knowledge of Chappaquiddick, but it was enough. The fact that this man was re-elected, time and time again, shocked my faith in America’s system of justice. But more than that, it made me question my own liberal faith. That so many of my fellow liberals would apologize for and explain away a man who–were it not for his privileged station in life–would have served a long jail sentence, seemed to contradict the most fundamental tenets of liberalism, namely, equality before the law and opposition to political power accrued by dynastic lineage.

In light of yesterday’s endorsement, now is as good a time as any to go back and re-read the classic GQ story on Kennedy by Michael Kelly, former editor of The New Republic, entitled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” It’s a different animal entirely from yesterday’s herd-like and fawning press coverage of the Kennedy clan.


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