February 4, 2008 in Opinion

Political dynasties un-American

Froma Harrop The Providence Journal
 

Are we done worshipping the Kennedys yet? And what do you mean by “we?”

That was quite a spectacle – the commentariat gushing superlatives over the alleged power of Ted and Caroline to deliver liberals to Barack Obama. Half the electorate wasn’t even born when the sainted John F. Kennedy was assassinated – and few have any idea who Ethel is. Though the Kennedy brand is in steep decline, the wave of conformist opinion still thinks this endorsement is very big.

Americans fought a revolution to free themselves from ruling families. Thomas Paine wrote that “we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents.”

Nonetheless, the Kennedys fancy themselves liberal kingmakers, and the media swallow their presumption whole. “The torch is passed,” the chroniclers scribble, as candidates beg Kennedys for their “prized endorsements.”

JFK was indeed a charismatic figure, but the more we learn about his Camelot in Washington, the less perfect it sounds. (One might start at the 1960 election, which was stolen with an assist by the mob.) Daughter Caroline was adorable, but could someone please explain her cosmic significance today?

The career of dynasty elderTed Kennedy, meanwhile, is headed for a disgraceful end. The Massachusetts senator has been caught in a sneaky plot to kill a clean-energy project in Nantucket Sound. Seems he doesn’t want to see wind turbines from his waterfront estate. “Don’t you realize – that’s where I sail!” he famously said.

The heck with his constituents, who live with some of the foulest coal-burning plants in the country. The heck with the United States, trying to free itself from foreign oil. The heck with the planet, threatened by global warming. Environmentalists now boo at the Kennedy name – not that many in the media have noticed.

In 1994, the family parked Ted’s troubled son Patrick in a Rhode Island congressional seat. Patrick recently condemned a wind farm proposal for his state – with references to “monster windmills.” You see, making any New England waters safe for wind turbines would undercut Dad’s efforts to keep them off his Hyannisport horizon.

Patrick moves in and out of rehab over pills and booze. In 2000, he shoved a security guard at Los Angeles International Airport. Later that year, he “trashed” a leased sailboat, according to the vessel’s owner. In the wee hours two years ago, he crashed his car into a barrier near the Capitol. One wishes Patrick luck in recovery, but doesn’t his district deserve a fully functional representative?

A new Obama ad shows the Illinois senator flanked by Patrick and Ted, with Caroline spouting the same sort of vacuous platitudes that (sadly) have characterized his own speeches. Obama is better than any of these people, and the spot emphasizes what’s missing in his campaign: substance.

In a non-romantic look at the family, “The Dark Side of Camelot,” author Seymour Hersh described John’s 1960 strategy as follows: “He made his mark not in the Senate, where his legislative output remained undistinguished, but among the voters, who responded to Kennedy as they would to a famous athlete or popular movie star.”

Sound familiar?

The Obama campaign has, with justification, criticized Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as another example of dynastic politics. But now that Obama is playing adopted son of the Kennedy clan, that argument falls apart. As for Clinton, her trolling for the endorsements of other family members lacked dignity. And she missed an opportunity to dismiss the Kennedy mystique as so much hot air.

The idea of political dynasties insults a free people. Why this obvious point gets lost in the glowing and lazy reportage of the Kennedy endorsements beats me.


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