Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2004 / 17 Shevat, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Twilight of the Kennedys: Kerry reduces Teddy and his once-mighty clan to political supporting roles | The other day in Michigan, John Forbes Kerry finally got the initiation he's been waiting for all his life.

The ceremony was carried out by Teddy Kennedy in front of an audience made up of electrical workers. In full campaign bellow, Kennedy told them, "I was on the Labor Committee when I first went to the United States Senate. Yeah, the four years when my brother Bobby represented New York State. And John Kerry's been voting for labor for 18 years. That's 98 years of Kennedys and Kerrys voting for labor. Don't you think we deserve your help?"

How sweet that "we" must have sounded to Kerry. Kennedys and Kerrys. Even before his prep school romance with Jackie's half sister Janet Auchincloss — who took him sailing with the original JFK — Kerry has dreamed of being a Kennedy. Bill Clinton, too, had a youthful thing for the family, but he outgrew it. Kerry never has. He followed his idol into the Navy, fought to skipper his own version of PT-109 and came out, like Kennedy, a war hero.

He exhibits the sort of physical vigor John Kennedy celebrated, lives in the same grand style and, for most of his career, has passed himself off as an Irish Catholic aristocrat (he's actually Yankee patrician on his mother's side, the grandson of Jewish immigrants on his father's).

Despite these Camelot virtues — or more likely because of them — Kerry has never been warmly embraced by the senior senator from Massachusetts. That's not hard to understand. Kerry is lean, sober, Cerebral and relentlessly ambitious — the man Teddy Kennedy should have been and isn't. Kerry is also a grownup. If he had been at Chappaquiddick, he wouldn't have left Mary Jo Kopechne in the car.

And yet Teddy has swallowed his resentment and jealousy, gone out on the hustings as a Kerry surrogate and put his family's political capital at the service of his junior colleague. It says a lot about Kerry's chances - Teddy would never humble himself like this for a loser — and even more about the current low state of the Kennedys.

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Two years ago, one of Bobby's daughters, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, blew a race for governor in Democratic Maryland. Another Kennedy nephew, Mark Shriver, lost in a congressional primary there. Andrew Cuomo, married to another one of Bobby's daughters, Kerry Kennedy, couldn't even get himself nominated for governor in New York against the hapless Carl McCall.

The only other Kennedy in Congress right now is Teddy's boy Patrick, and he is his father's son. Over his career in the House, he has displayed what the Congressional Quarterly calls "aberrant behavior." A few years ago, for example, the Coast Guard had to be called in to rescue one of his dates from an evening gone wrong aboard a chartered yacht. Not exactly presidential material.

Forty years after Dallas, 35 after Teddy became paterfamilias, the most successful boomer-generation Kennedy is Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger, and she's married to a Republican.

A Kerry presidency is as close as the House of Kennedy can get to a restoration. All the family has to offer is faded glamour, and that is of no value to anyone. Except Kerry.

After all, if the new JFK wants a Camelot of his own, who better than authentic Kennedys to decorate the round table? There could be cabinet jobs for the aging children, presidential muscle behind the candidacies of their children, a distinguished elder statesman role for Teddy himself.

And so the senior senator from Massachusetts has opened his arms and adopted John F. Kerry. Ninety-eight years of Kennedys and Kerrys. The Massachusetts big time. Wonder if Kerry noticed that he was given second billing.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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