Jewish World Review July 29, 2004/ 11 Menachem-Av, 5764
A long goodbye to the Kennedys
BOSTON This Democratic National Convention is by design Teddy Kennedy's last hurrah, a grand party to celebrate the family and the city that once threatened to eat America. It turns out to be the party's goodbye to the dream of dynasty.
The last of the old lions of the Senate is 72 not old enough to make a mortician salivate, but the fires of ambition that bedevil young men have been banked, fires that pop and crackle from time to time, but no longer burn with the hard blue flame of youth.
The man conservatives love to loathe in the way that the delegates to this convention feed on their loathing of George W. Bush brought the crowd to its feet with a speech that is second only to the eloquence of Bill Clinton, the new favorite son of the Democrats. On another night in another time, Mr. Kennedy would have given the speech that everyone would go home to quote to friends and family.
He still has the best speechwriters, the best phrasemakers, the best polishers of the spoken word, the best manipulators and bruisers of facts, the best practitioners of the New England piety that verges easily into the confident bigotry of those who imagine themselves the moral betters of the rest of us.
He occasionally stumbles over a word now, hesitating with the intended emphasis. The effect is powerful even when the message is recognizable buncombe. The administration of George W. Bush, he told the delegates, is fear "fear of four more years of dreams denied and promises unfulfilled and progress rolled back."
"In the depths of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt inspired the nation when he said, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Today, we say the only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush. ...
"The roots of America are planted deep in the New England soil. Across the region are burial grounds, many so humble you find them without intending to. ... These are the patriots who won our freedom. These are the first Americans, who enlisted in a fight for something larger than themselves. ... Our struggle is with the politics of fear and favoritism in our own time, in our own country."
And so on and so forth. It's the so on and the so forth that renders the message bunk.
The years pass and are never kind to old lions and dynasties. Most of the delegates in Boston's FleetCenter have known only Teddy as the bearer of the Kennedy name in the nation's politics. Nearly a half-century has gone by since young John F. Kennedy burst into the public consciousness in 1956, when he lost, barely, to Estes Kefauver when Adlai Stevenson threw the choice of his vice-presidential candidate to an open convention in Chicago.
Four years later, in Los Angeles, JFK rolled past Lyndon Johnson and the faded Adlai Stevenson. Camelot, mostly myth and moonshine but a romantic myth and 90-proof moonshine for all that, was born. Many of us were certain (often with dread and suspicion) that Camelot would spawn a line of Kennedys stretching into the next millennium. No one could imagine the tragedies that lay ahead.
And now the dynasty, a dynasty only in name but a name that has mastered Massachusetts for six decades, limps to the curtain that must come down on us all, even Kennedys. There are no Kennedys to follow the spawn of old Joseph Kennedy, whose venality was matched only by his determination to establish a royal line of succession. His dream was done in as dynasties always are by tragedy, scandal, blunder and defeat.
"They are not to be underestimated, of course," writes Richard Reeves, a distinguished JFK biographer, in the Boston Globe. "The name and the legend still have magic. The Kennedys write books, they run foundations good people doing good things by and large. But if the Kennedys themselves are fading politically, part of the reason is that the idea, the ambition, the style, and the drive belongs to everyone now."
Thus Camelot, like all dreams, dies with the dawning of the light.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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