Good Riddance to the Kennedys

This month, Joe Kennedy III became the first Kennedy ever to lose an election in Massachusetts. In light of the occasion, a Masshole reflects on the awfulness of the Kennedy clan and celebrates the end of Kennedy hegemony.

Joseph Kennedy III on February 16, 2012 in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Kayana Szymczak / Getty

To quote Taylor swift, “There goes the last great American dynasty.” When Senator Ed Markey won his victory over Joe Kennedy this month, it showed the Left can flex muscle; it’s worth celebrating that an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and support for the Green New Deal can win a Senate election. But what’s also sweet about this triumph is the fact that a Kennedy lost.

Political dynasties should have no place in a democracy. The Kennedys may not have been as nakedly vulgar in their pursuit of family advantage as the Trumps, but inherited political office is a feudal hangover, and voters should reflexively reject it. One of the beautiful things about the Left’s current electoral success is that we have been able to bring some of these family fiefdoms to an end; socialist Emily Gallagher, for example, beat Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn state assemblyman whose father and grandfather had also represented the neighborhood in the Assembly.

In St. Louis, Missouri, Bernie Sanders supporter Cori Bush defeated William Lacy Clay, a ten-term incumbent whose father had held the same seat before him. While Ed Markey was the incumbent in this case, deflating a rich family’s entitlement to public office and a taxpayer-funded paycheck is a sign of progress. There’s always been something pathetic and wannabe-monarchist about the American cult of the Kennedys — and I say this as a Bostonian.

The Kennedys are terrible not only for what they represent, but in their own special way. The writer Miriam Markowitz observed that Markey ran a tastefully restrained campaign, evidenced, for example, by the fact, that he never said, “Just look at this rich guy’s fucking face.” (And, really — just look at it.)

In the decades before #MeToo, violence against women was often simply ignored, especially when the perpetrators were powerful rich men. While some of the (many) accusations against the Kennedy men amount to unproven speculation, and others have been rejected in court, plenty of bloodshed is well established.

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel has been convicted several times of bludgeoning a girl to death in 1975, when both were fifteen years old; the conviction has also been overturned several times, due to immense Kennedy family resources for lawyers. In 2015, journalist Ken Silverstein revealed that Robert F. Kennedy Jr offered him $12,500 to author a book whitewashing Skakel’s horrific crime.

And in 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy crashed his car on Chappaquiddick Island, off Cape Cod, leaving fellow passenger and acquaintance Mary Jo Kopechne to drown, a set of facts no one disputes. He served no prison time for that crime and was repeatedly reelected to the Senate, though the incident probably doomed his presidential aspirations.

The Kennedy death toll mounts when we turn to geopolitics. John F. Kennedy escalated the US presence in Vietnam, where in 1962, he was the first president to use chemical warfare — he authorized the defoliation of forests in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia with Agent Orange. More than 5 million acres of forest were damaged or destroyed, and a million Vietnamese people suffered birth defects. Several million members of the US military — and their children — also endured serious health effects, especially cancer.

Domestically, the Kennedy record is also bleak. After years as the leading champion of health care reform among national politicians, Ted Kennedy gave up on single-payer health care in the 1970s, dramatically shrinking the sphere of political possibility.

And the Kennedy family is made up of the worst kind of NIMBYish rich assholes. Down the Cape (as we say in Boston), environmentalists and a wind energy company fought for sixteen years to bring what would have been this nation’s first offshore wind farm. The project, called Cape Wind, would have supplied clean energy to Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. Wind is one of several renewable sources of energy that we badly need so we can rid our world of fossil fuels and avoid mass extinction from climate catastrophe. Why did Cape Wind die, then, in liberal Massachusetts?

Simple: the wind turbines would have ruined the view from the Kennedy family’s estate — as well as that of their neighbor, Republican billionaire and fossil fuel mogul William Koch. The Kennedys and the Kochs used their substantial political capital to kill the project — and not only through lawsuits, though they did sue. Senator Ted Kennedy also had the gall to use his elected office to call for more federal guidelines in 2006. The company gave up on the project in 2017.

Sure, the Kennedys have, at times, championed progressive causes. And they’ve been so prone to tragedy that some tender-hearted readers may feel sympathetic to them. With so many assassinations and other premature deaths afflicting the clan, it may be humane to root for the Kennedys’ survival, just as one cheers the persistence of the giant panda in China’s bamboo forests. But we should cheer the demise of their political power with even more fervor.