The Morning Jolt


Please, America, Let’s Take a Break from the Kennedys

Congressman Joe Kennedy III greets a well-wisher in Brookline, Mass., May 29, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Yet another member of the Kennedy family aspires to the title “Senator,” prompting the question of whether both the voters and the Kennedys would be better off taking a break from each other; China starts pumping out disinformation on Twitter and Facebook; and a new poll indicates that support for Kamala Harris has rapidly collapsed.

The Kennedys Need to Learn When to Stop

You would think one family couldn’t suffer so many untimely deaths, generation after generation. At the beginning of the month, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, the 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, died of an apparent drug overdose at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. She was enrolled at Boston College, where she was vice president of the College Democrats, and had written about struggles with depression and mental illness for the student newspaper at Deerfield Academy, a private preparatory school in Massachusetts, in 2016.

In the wake of her tragic death, news broke that Representative Joe Kennedy III is seriously considering a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic senator Edward Markey. Few Massachusetts Democrats have much of a problem with Markey; a reliably liberal Democratic vote, who’s been in office since 2013. Even those organizing the “Jump In, Joe” groups say they don’t have a complaint with Markey. His main flaws, in their eyes, are that he’s 73 years old and not a Kennedy.

If you’re born into the Kennedy family, you’re instantly living with enormous expectations; in particular that someday you will run for elected office – or as they tend to phrase it, “go into public service.” That election to public office is expected to be a steppingstone, and someday you will be elected president and restore the storybook, heavily airbrushed image of “Camelot.” Your family’s beloved and departed elders had notorious flaws, but despite the fact that almost everyone in America knows about them, you’re not supposed to ever talk about them openly. Alcoholism, adultery, two assassinations, a forced lobotomy, a dead girl left to drown, a high-profile trial on rape charges that ends in acquittal, allegations of “waitress sandwiches” in restaurants near Capitol Hill, activism against vaccinations, conspiracy theories, relentless public scrutiny, one tragic sudden death after another, the list goes on and on. This is probably an extraordinarily stressful environment to grow up in. For all their wealth, fame and, power, you’d probably never want to trade places with them.

The Kennedys would likely be happier and healthier if there wasn’t an enormous image to live up to and if they could just happily pursue nonpolitical careers and pursuits outside of the public spotlight.

Back in 2015, former congressman Patrick Kennedy wrote A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction. His memoir delved deeply into his difficulties with living up to the expectations of his family and in particular his father, Senator Edward Kennedy. He described breaking down in public during the height of the William Kennedy Smith rape accusations, when he was a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly:

Within two weeks, I could no longer handle the pressure. On April 14, the editor of the Providence Journal published an op ed ripping my dad, entitled “Downhill All the Way.” I was so livid that I drove over to the office of the Journal – which was, of course, the main publication I relied upon to cover my own political career; This was long before cell phones, so I went to the pay phone outside the ProJo building, called the editor, and started screaming and swearing at him. I dared him to come down and meet me on the street.

He very calmly said that if I had a problem with anything he had written, I was welcome to submit a letter to the editor.

I kept on screaming at him, yelling that he was scared I would beat him up. It started out as just totally mad blind rage, but soon I realized I was trembling. I was crying, weeping into the pay phone. I felt every cell of my body was in turmoil. This was about so much more than anger over an op-ed – it was the first time I really got in touch with what, in recovery, we say is that shame we carry within us. And I had never felt so exposed before. I didn’t really have my own identity yet and I felt terrorized by not being able to separate from my parents’ identities, as they were being so harshly criticized. My core of shame was being uncovered for the first time and I was melting down. And I was doing it on the phone with the editor of the Journal, the most important journalist in the world to me.

And that day, the editor of the Journal did the kindest thing: nothing. He pretended none of this had ever happened. He never reported on the incident.

It’s very easy to dislike Patrick Kennedy for his political positions, or how in 1988, the Kennedy family basically bumped off a veteran Democratic state legislator so that the 21-year-old Providence College junior could have his seat. The Kennedy family spent $15,000 just on lawyers to challenge the registrations of about 170 voters; overall, Patrick Kennedy spent about $66 per vote.

It’s very difficult to not wish Patrick Kennedy had gotten help and found an inner peace much earlier in life, or to sympathize with him, concluding that the pressure of family and politics turned into an extremely toxic influence in his life:

His father once told him that he knew his son struggled with drug problems when he was young. He had seen Patrick’s ATM receipts that showed him withdrawing hundreds of dollars at 3 a.m. He was 18 and attending Andover at the time, and Kennedy writes he long wondered — but never asked — why his father didn’t do anything.

In another telling anecdote, Kennedy writes about his father admonishing him at a family gathering after the funeral of Ted Kennedy’s sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, in 2006.

His father was upset that, after he had crashed into a barrier at the US Capitol, Kennedy had gone public with his issues of addiction, in a New York Times article that appeared just days before the funeral.

“He called the article a disaster — the word he always used to describe the most extreme situations,” Kennedy writes. “How dare I talk about the family this way? How dare I discuss ‘these things’ in public? I stood there on the verge of disintegration. I was early in my sobriety and still pretty vulnerable. And I watched my father circulate around the room, talking about the article.”

Patrick Kennedy might have been happier doing something else with his life besides serving in elected office.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III may be a swell guy, with none of the issues that have troubled other members of his family who served in public office. He reportedly doesn’t drink, and there are no reports of womanizing or other scandals. Then again, his impatient ambition to become a senator at age 38, and seeming willingness to step on Markey to get there, reminds us of the Kennedy family’s habitual ruthlessness when it comes to getting potential Democratic rivals out of the way.

We were starting to make progress towards that day when Kennedys stopped being “America’s Royal Family” and had become just another wealthy family in Massachusetts. The “Kennedy mystique” was fading and there were indicators that voters were less interested in voting for a candidate just because they’re part of the famous family. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost her gubernatorial race in Maryland in 2002. Chris Kennedy lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018. Edward M. Kennedy Jr. chose not to run for reelection to the Connecticut State Senate in 2018. Caroline Kennedy returned to private life and largely avoided the spotlight after serving four years as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. We were even starting to see a long-overdue reckoning about the uglier side of the family history.

But now it looks like we’ll be witnessing an intense Massachusetts Democratic party fight about whether there should be yet another “Senator Kennedy.”

Facebook and Twitter Catch China’s Government Pumping Out Disinformation

Social media disinformation campaigns: they’re not just for Russia anymore! (Actually, if you read my presentation from the spring, you already knew Iran was getting into this game.)

Twitter announced last night that it had found and suspended, “936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”

Around the same time, Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy for Facebook announced, “Today, we removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong. The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts — some of which had been already disabled by our automated systems — to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.”

It’s worth noting that it’s not yet clear how effective these Chinese efforts were. As I said in the spring, “The best defense against disinformation is a better-informed and less credulous public that doesn’t automatically believe everything they read on the Internet and doesn’t gleefully share any information they encounter that reaffirms their preconceptions.”

Is Kamala Harris’ Campaign Collapsing?

Rarely do you see a poll that holds genuinely surprising result this early in the process, but this morning CNN’s new national poll of the Democratic primary finds Joe Biden at 29 percent, Bernie Sanders at 15 percent, and Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent. Notice who’s missing? Kamala Harris is now tied for a distant fourth with Pete Buttigieg with 5 percent.

In early July, Harris was at 17 percent in this poll.

We’ll see if other polls show similar results, but the narrative makes sense: Harris had a great first debate, which catapulted her into the first tier, and then she had a really difficult second one, taking flak from all sides and proving she’s much better at attacking other candidates’ records than defending her own.

Democrats desperately want to win, and they know Trump’s reelection campaign will relentlessly tear into the party’s nominee. The party’s primary voters aren’t going to waste much time on any candidate who can’t defend her record.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, apparently a lot of high-profile Democrats just forgot about the accusations against Mark Halperin; Trump continues to publicly rage about staffers he hired; Jay-Z joins the ranks of the insufficiently woke; Elizabeth Warren’s No First Use policy is a solution in search of a problem; and the dangers of rewarding no-hope presidential candidates who suddenly drop down to a Senate race.

In some professional news, I’ll be doing a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District in Fairfax County on Sunday, September 15 at 1 p.m. – yes, that’s right around the time football games start, but I promise I’ll keep you updated on the scores. Plus, Mosaic hosts arguably the region’s best farmer’s market on Sundays. The recent reviews of Between Two Scorpions on Amazon declare…

 “Amazed at the depth of his knowledge of the history and culture of the various places which were part of this story…”

“Equal parts enjoyable and scary! He has created an interesting team of operators and infuses the dialog with wonderful metaphors of popular cultural references (Quotes from Star Wars to familiar ad libs of the unnamed president).” 

“Geraghty creates a world that is both fantastic and utterly believable, with vivid characters and a plot line that draws the reader in and won’t let him go. It’s fast paced, fun, funny and compelling…” 

“Loved the humor that Jim is known for in his writing & podcasts coming out of these characters, too.”


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