Politics & Policy

Curse to Bear

A new account of Ted Kennedy�s Palm Beach adventure.

Every season seems to bring a new best-selling book full of sordid details about the Kennedys, from allegations that JFK was a pill-popping intern predator to Carolyn Bessette Kennedy having a fondness for cocaine.

The Kennedy Curse, by Edward Klein, is the latest entry. The premise is simple: “The Kennedy Curse is the result of the destructive collision between the Kennedys’ fantasy of omnipotence — their need to get away with things that others cannot — and the cold, hard realities of life.”

Sen. Ted Kennedy once wondered “whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys.” Of course, the distinguished Democrat from Massachusetts has been the author of many of his own problems. A case in point is the Palm Beach incident of 1991, when the famous senator went romping with his son Patrick (now a Rhode Island congressman) and William Kennedy Smith.

Klein is the first writer to have gone through the boxes of sworn statements, depositions, and other official documents associated with the ensuing rape trial. His chapter on the events of March 29, 1991 and what took place afterward are riveting.

A few scene-setting excerpts:

“Because few people had seen the Kennedy compound from the inside, the house had acquired a certain mysterious allure, and men in the family often exploited this attraction during the annual Easter hunt for women. The promise of ‘a quiet drink at the house’ was a surefire technique for luring women back to the compound for sex.”

“Sex itself was never the primary purpose of these evenings; it was an opportunity for the Kennedys to put on a show of manly swagger in front of one another and to demonstrate that women were discardable objects.”

“The Kennedys behaved as though they were invulnerable and had nothing to fear. Palm Beach was their seraglio, a place of licentious pleasure. It was there that they could drink themselves into a state of drunken senselessness and turn sex into a power game of seduction, manipulation, and control.”

“Perhaps [Ted] was hoping that his young son and nephew could help a drunken, grossly overweight, middle-aged man get lucky again that night.”

As it turned out, the two younger Kennedys each brought a woman back to the compound late that night, which happened to be Good Friday. Willy took his companion, Patty Bowman, to the beach just outside. There, according to Bowman, he raped her. What’s more, she told a police detective that the senator must have known what was going on.

Klein describes the conversation: “‘When [Willy and I] went to the beach, [Ted] was there, and I was screaming, No! and Stop, and I remember thinking, ‘Ted Kennedy is here. Why doesn’t he come down and stop this man?’’”

If Ted Kennedy didn’t hear Bowman, perhaps it’s because he had become Peeping Ted. His son was in his bedroom with Michele Cassone. At the trial, Cassone spoke about what happened: “Patrick and I were … making out, kissing. … About ten minutes at the most later, the senator emerged through the door from inside the house … and at this time he only has on a button-down oxford shirt. He has taken his slacks off. I didn’t see if he had any Jockeys or boxers on [because the shirt] came halfway down the thighs. He was standing there, wobbling, and had no pants on. … And I was just really freaked out.”

Around this time, Bowman says she escaped from the clutches of Smith. She ran back into the house, hid, and then called friends on a cordless phone. They came and picked her up. Then Bowman reported what happened to the police.

Klein describes what happened next: “Teddy appeared to get himself tangled in a web of lies and contradictions.” Many of his statements didn’t seem to jibe with what others were saying about that night at the compound. “What’s more, Teddy stonewalled the police and, at times, interfered with their investigation.” When the police came to the compound on Easter Sunday, for instance, one of the senator’s henchmen told them that Ted and Willy weren’t there — even though they really were. Later on, the Kennedys leaked unflattering information about Bowman to the press, even though liberals aren’t supposed to “blame the victim.” NBC and the New York Times even used her name, despite Florida’s rape-shield law.

Willy, of course, was eventually acquitted — rape convictions can be difficult to secure, especially when one of America’s most powerful families has a vested interest in protecting their members. Yet it’s impossible to read Klein’s account and not think something awful happened that night — and that Ted Kennedy, that hero of Chappaquiddick, was a party to it.

Keep it in mind the next time Kennedy take to the floor of the Senate for a lecture on social justice.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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