Politics & Policy

Joe Kennedy III and America’s Long Overdue Reckoning About His Family

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Joe Kennedy III and America’s Long Overdue Reckoning About His Family

There’s a wide chasm between how Democrats perceive the Kennedys and the actual truth, and it’s not petty to keep pointing out that gap. There’s a stack of evidence showing that a lot of the Kennedys were horrible, selfish, abusive people who were somehow stage-managed and airbrushed into secular saints. The list of scandals runs generations, from lobotomizing Rosemary Kennedy, to JFK making Jackie get electroshock treatments, to the multiple allegations against William Kennedy Smith, to Patrick Kennedy driving under the influence. And of course, Chappaquiddick.

By Kennedy standards, Congressman Joe Kennedy III is an accomplished 37-year-old: Stanford and Harvard Law, two years in the Peace Corps, several years as an assistant district attorney. Defying his family stereotype, he doesn’t drink. But let’s not kid ourselves; if his name was Joe Smith and his family wasn’t an icon in American politics, he would have had a much tougher time winning a Democratic Congressional primary in Massachusetts at age 32.

That’s why there’s a good reason to cringe when Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Bobby Kennedy and great-nephew of John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, stands before the nation giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union Address and laments “a system forcefully rigged towards those at the top.”

Last night, the congressman contended, “The [administration’s] record is a rebuke to our highest American ideal, the belief that we are all worthy, that we are all equal, that we all count, in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.”

The Kennedy family spent the better part of two generations fighting for equality in the eyes of the law for everyone not named Kennedy. As a review of the forthcoming film Chappaquiddick declared, “The fact that the Kennedy family — the original postwar dynasty of the one percent — possessed, and exerted, the influence to squash the case is the essence of what Chappaquiddick means. The Kennedys lived outside the law.”

Let us also acknowledge that when someone from a clan that has been touted as “America’s Royal Family” since at least 1962 sings the praises for equality… it rings hollow.

Joe Kennedy III may be an absolute gentleman with women and I hope he is. But when he salutes America’s women for “bravely saying, ‘me too,’” some of us can only think of John F. Kennedy bedding 19-year-old White House interns and Ted Kennedy making a “waitress sandwich” with Chris Dodd. For a long time, the Kennedy men embodied everything that #MeToo opposes. Some people may object to this point, declaring it unfair to hold past generations’ sins against the Congressman. Of course, if his name was Smith or Jones, would he be giving the response to the State of the Union? Last night Democrats wanted to cash in on the benefits of the family legacy without acknowledging the dark side of that legacy.

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