End of an Arthurian Era

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February 12, 2010 | Comments

I was in the middle of writing a piece on Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) last night, when the news broke that he would not be seeking reelection to the House of Representatives in 2010. Perfect timing.

Kennedy’s poll numbers have apparently been slipping – no surprise, given the tsunami threatening to hit the democratic Congress come November. On a more personal level, last month he watched the sacred Massachusetts Senate seat long-held by Ted Kennedy, his late father, go to Scott Brown – a man Patrick Kennedy describes as “a joke.” This upset threw a road block in the passage of his father’s pet project: nationalized, socialized, rationed health care, a mandated plan that would be the exempted Kennedys’ legacy to we the little people.

When Patrick steps down, Congress will be Kennedy-less for the first time since 1962. I frankly don’t consider this much of a loss. If indeed first impressions offer our most illuminating insight into the people we encounter, my first impression of this guy was right on target.

I first noticed Patrick Kennedy pre-Congress, when his cousin William Kennedy Smith was standing trial on rape charges in Florida in 1991. Because Patrick was out partying with his cousin and dad Teddy on that fateful night (Good Friday, by the way), he was called to testify. Jittery and sweating, TV cameras rolling, he stuttered his answers, his eyes darting, voice cracking, desperately seeking, it seemed, that “special treatment” to which his family is so accustomed. Dangling out there alone, I thought he would burst into tears at any moment.

Three years later, at age 26, Patrick was elected to Congress. His legislative career since has been anything but extraordinary, his name making headlines primarily in connection with mind-altering substances: repeated stints in drug rehab, come to mind, as well as his collision with a security barrier in the wee hours one morning in DC (at least he was driving alone). His failed attempts to convince authorities that he was on official business ultimately morphed into a more truthful tale, in which prescription drugs and impaired sensibilities played the starring roles.

In recent months, Patrick Kennedy has made valiant attempts to reach out and grasp daddy’s baton to claim the title of heir apparent. First, he scolded the Catholic Church for refusing to support the democrats’ socialized health-care bill — and, by extension, abortion and rationed care for the elderly, the imperfect and the critically ill. (It would seem a return to chatecism for a refresher course might be in order).

But when, during a post-Massachusetts-special-election hissy fit, Patrick referred to now-Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) as “a joke,” he let slip his spoiled-brat gene – conduct unbecoming, I’d say, of a 42-year-old Congressman. Come to think of it, though, like so many in the political spotlight these days, little in Patrick Kennedy’s life experience has offered him the challenges and obstacles necessary for the transformation from child to adult.

I’ll never forget seeing that “child” in a photo taken at one of his early campaign events in 1994. Shaking the hand of an older woman who could have been his grandmother, he seemed as gawky and uncomfortable in his own skin as he had in that Florida courtroom three years prior. But the woman whose hand he touched…she was in tears, sobbing, it seemed, as though she were touching the hand of a god. It sent a chill up my spine. Given her age, though, and thus her many years exposed to the Arthurian mythology of the Kennedy dynasty, in her mind, perhaps she was touching a god, willingly ignoring the warts and the scandals and the arrogance that have followed that god’s family through history and damaged so many of its young.

Almost 20 years later, it seems that wisdom and clarity are finally beginning to trump the blind infatuation that has protected a name many have considered royal for decades. We saw this in the election of Massachusetts republican Scott Brown. We saw it when Caroline was denied New York’s vacant U.S. Senate seat and an ambassadorship to the Vatican last year. And we see it in the eyes of Patrick Kennedy, who rode into Washington on Kennedy coattails that have now been whipped out from under him. We the people will be better off for the shake-up. Perhaps the esteemed Congressman Kennedy will be better off, too.

Betsy Siino | Comments

One Comment

  1. Posted February 13, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    No family in American history – not the Roosevelt, not the Adams, and certainly not the Bush families – have paid a higher price in the service of the people than the Kennedys. And to be perfectly honest with you, I’m sick and tired of listening to them get kicked around by the clueless right wing.

    It was announced yesterday that Ben Quayle, son of the former vice-president, will be running for congress. We here, at this glorious moment in the history of our great nation, are proud and privileged to bear witness to the birth of the Quayle family political dynasty.

    I need a drink.


    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY