“With the exception of the disgusting Joe Sr., there was genuine idealism in the tribe. The rotting left-overs can still be whiffed in Ted Kennedy’s speeches. There is something more horrible than hoodlums, churls and vipers, and this is knaves with moral justification for their cause.” P.J. O’Rourke from “Mordred Had a Point-Camelot Revisted” in Give War a Chance, 1992 Atlantic Monthly Press
While widely respected and thoroughly enjoyed as one of the finest political humorists of our generation, P.J. O’Rourke isn’t just a wise-cracker. His political insight and sense of American history matches that of any of our more somber analysts.
The preposterous pomp and circumstance surrounding the death of Ted Kennedy and the Cronkite media’s attempt to present him as some sort of errant saint brought to mind P.J.’s rousing and dead-on analysis of the Kennedy family in his 1984 review of the David Horowitz/Peter Collier book titled The Kennedys: An American Drama. This short review is perhaps Mr. O’Rourke’s finest work. It seems appropriate to recall his insight as the Kennedy dynasty winds down to its whimpering end.
O’Rourke opens with a disclaimer that the Horowitz book is an assemblage of “ugly facts and rude anecdotes” about “this large and dirty family” but couldn’t possibly be a complete collection:
“Deforestation of North America would be needed to print a book that size.”
It all began with Joe Sr.:
“Old Joseph P. Kennedy was a liar and a greedy thief, an ignoramus, adulterer, vile anti-Semite, coward and pompous ass.” Together with his wife Rose they raised “their nine whelps in an atmosphere of brutal pride and stupid competition.” Leaving out the retarded and cruelly lobotomized Rosemary:
“The remaining eight turned out foolhardy, arrogant, unprincipled, and wholly lacking in a sense of consequences.”
This led to the plane-crash deaths of Joe Jr. and Kathleen, to JFK’s reckless P.T. boat collision and Teddy’s later “skin-diving efforts” at Chappaquiddick.
Despite the family penchant for recklessness, the Kennedy’s political fortunes increased:
“Elections, intellectuals, and press adulation were purchased….Disguised as populists, they championed the definitely privileged and supposedly enlightened few...They did not know and probably couldn’t understand the idea of a free people chartering a government for the sake of convenience and paved roads…and only in the vaguest, election-fixing way did any Kennedy realize that public officials serve at the people’s sufferance.”
Sadly the Kennedy family’s political fortunes began to dim as
“Two of them were shot, but under the most romantic circumstances and not, as might have been hoped, after due process of law.”
And now, with the least of the Kennedy brothers waddled off to his eternal reward we find:
“the morally satisfying third act, when the last generation of Kennedys reaps the trust-fund dividends of sin…They overdose and get arrested and best of all, disappear from the public eye.”
And good riddance. Just a few moments in the media glare was enough to expose the woeful inadequacy of Caroline http://www.nypost.com/seven/01212009/news/politics/caroline_kennedy_ends_senate_seat_bid_151234.htm and a rehashing of Joe Kennedy’s Viva Venezuela routine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owdpbZ4ndvk should be enough to send him scurrying back to coupon-clipping and pompous do-gooderism.
So how did we end up with this toothy band of brothers who “helped bring on the age of truly elephantine government programs”?
Horowtiz and Collier suggest it was the family’s “pet intellectuals.” But
“This is giving the American public too little credit. We may be dumb, but we’re not so dumb that we ever spent a minute listening to Theodore Sorenson.”
No, as P.J. avers, it is all our fault:
“We have no one to blame for the Kennedy’s but ourselves…we did it not because we respected them or thought what they proposed was good, but because they were pretty….This may be the stupidest thing that has ever happened in a democracy.”
The expiration of Ted should be a clarion call for Americans to wake up, lest we make the same mistake again:
“Trust hubris to bring such trash as the Kennedys to their knees. They are but a few and passing evil. We are another matter. There are some (300) million of us, and we’d better start talking sense to ourselves soon. The President of the United States is our employee.”
O’Rourke’s prescience from this review written 25 years ago is amazing. If we can remember his advice, our elections will result in
“a good, dull Cincinnatus like Eisenhower or Coolidge. Our governance will be managed with quiet and economy. We’ll have no need to go looking for Kennedys to love. And no need to boil over with hatred for them later.”