The Stigma of the Kennedys

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The Stigma of the Kennedys

The Kennedy clan, the pre-eminent American political family of our time, seems to be cast in the stars, the distant stuff of legend. They march ever more numerous among us. There's a spot on Washington's infamous Beltway where an unsuspecting family might find their children in school with a couple of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's 54 great-grandchildren. That same family could be the neighbors of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, one of the Kennedy clan's five surviving originals (there were nine). It could be served in the Maryland assembly by delegate Mark Shriver, nephew of the martyred John Kennedy (and one of 29 grandchildren of Joe and Rose). And it could fall under the growing political hand of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, oldest child of the murdered Robert Kennedy, now Maryland's lieutenant governor and touted for higher office.

The Kennedy clan is embedded in American political and social culture of the past half-century like no other family. They arrived at that power base through cold calculation and the blunt instrument of their immense wealth but also because of honorable service to the nation, their reckless exuberance, and glamour and family tragedy beyond measure. The founding father of the clan, Joseph Kennedy, came from immigrant stock with all the eccentric genius and anger of his ruined kin, but he was touched by the magic of America. He went to the superior Boston Latin School; on to Harvard; and then in the roaring twenties, with little regard for ethics or even the law, plunged into the worlds of banking and moviemaking, but fortunately he cashed in before the market crash of 1929. When Franklin Roosevelt called Joe to Washington to clean up the Securities and Exchange Commission, but whe...

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