Of all the aspects concerning the death of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, I am struck the most by the repeated affirmations of Kennedy’s patriarchal status of the Kennedy clan after the assassination of his brother Robert. As far as I have seen or heard all the media outlets have gotten on the bandwagon in discussing this. Even the late Senator’s nephews and nieces all joined together at the memorial service in reinforcing the image of Teddy Kennedy as a noble patriarch who maintained the family standard after Bobby’s death in 1968 and the media has gone along in enabling that rather mythological image.
I use the word “myth” because Teddy Kennedy’s patriarchy was mythological. He was patriarch in name only. In truth, the elaborate framework of the Kennedy family slowly began to unravel in the years and decades following Bobby Kennedy’s assassination—and with it its attendant image of being America’s First Family.
In truth, under Teddy’s patriarchy the Kennedy clan lost its sacred oneness and singularity of purpose. None of the grandchildren of Joseph P. Kennedy have ever equaled or surpassed what his children (and in-laws) had created or accomplished.
In truth, under Teddy’s patriarchy the Kennedy clan suffered a lot of traumas and scandals which could have been avoided if Teddy had taken a stronger hand and/or else the Kennedy family members involved had possessed a stronger moral framework.
At the memorial service Teddy’s nephew Joseph P. Kennedy II (eldest son of Bobby Kennedy) spoke warmly and fondly about Teddy keeping the family together. It’s ironic that he would say that because in the wake of his father’s death it was Joseph who went into a prolonged period of emotional drift along with his brothers Robert Junior and David. All three brothers spent the next twelve years acting at odds with their uncle Teddy, experimenting with drugs, and getting into scrapes which some times led to innocent people being injured physically and/or emotionally. Robert Junior and David developed heroin addictions. Robert Junior would be busted for possession and David would die of an overdose.
Where was Teddy in all this?
Teddy’s nephew Chris Lawford also had major problems with drug abuse (he and his cousin David Kennedy regularly got high together). Luckily, Chris Lawford eventually cleaned up but still the question begs to be asked:
Where was Teddy in all this?
What about William Kennedy Smith, an accused rapist? At least we know where Teddy was that night: drunk, clad only in a nightshirt.
I could go on and on but I will have mercy upon the reader.
Was Teddy a great senator? Methinks so (depending on one’s political point of view).
Was Teddy a true patriarch? Methinks not.
One thing is absolutely certain: now that Teddy is dead there are no Kennedys anymore. Sure the children, nephews, and nieces, and grandchildren are still alive, maintaining the family name but they are not Kennedys with the magical aura and the built-in political life support system which allows them to become a force in American politics.
Those days are over and I think the surviving members of the Kennedy clan know it too—if not the rest of America. What was buried in Arlington National Cemetery was not solely a human body but also an American mythology as well.