Friday, June 30, 2023

Burning Down Camelot

Who ever thought that this little kid would put the final nail in the Kennedy legacy?

As a kid growing up, we were taught to worship the Kennedys.  I guess for my parents, Kennedy was the first President of their generation - "the torch has been passed..." and so on and so forth.  Now try taking that torch from their grasp.  If JFK was alive today, he'd almost be as old as President Biden.  Just kidding!

When I was in grade school, we were called into a special assembly, and a traveling theater group did a musical performance about John F. Kennedy.  I still remember one of the songs, "PT-109" which told the tale of how they screwed up and got run over by a Japanese destroyer - and how JFK swam for help - carrying another man on his back.  But Kennedy-haters will say that the whole story was exaggerated, and point out that even his book, Profiles in Courage, was ghost-written by Arthur Schlesinger.  Sort of started the whole political tome genre, though.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The whole clan started with Joseph Kennedy Sr. and he was indeed a piece of work, as even Kennedy fan-boys (and girls, such as my Mom) would admit. He was a master stock market manipulator and made millions in the markets in ways that probably would be illegal today.  He realized that because of his background, he could never be elected to office. So he did the next best thing, groom his oldest son to be President.

Joseph Kennedy Jr. unfortunately dies in a plane crash.   He was actually a hero, flying a plane loaded with explosives, which was supposed to be aimed at a target and then bail out. But the damn thing blew up in mid-air, so that was the end of those ambitions.

Looking over the remainder of his progeny, Joe settled on John, who was, by all accounts, a bit of  a playboy who never imagined that his father's political ambitions would be projected onto him.  JFK, of course, had a bad back and a number of other medical problems and was in constant pain.  But he was thrust into the spotlight and became the first Catholic President of the United States, defeating Richard Nixon (foreshadowing: we won't see the last of him, and yea, the press will still kick him around).

John had siblings, of course.  His younger brother Robert, youngest brother Teddy, and a sister Rosemary, who are most notable.  Rosemary apparently had some sort of mental illness and shocked her father by being somewhat promiscuous.  So he had her institutionalized and eventually lobotomized, which turned her into a vegetable.  All this was swept under the rug of course.

By the way, such treatments as lobotomy and electro-convulsive therapy are one reason I am always skeptical of medicine in general.  We tend to think that modern medicine is so sophisticated and scientific and that medicine of past eras was little more than superstition.  Bleeding and leeches?  Yuk!  But at the time, what was "modern" was thought to be sophisticated, only to be viewed with a shudder later on.  What medical practice today will be seen as primitive in 10-20 years?  I suspect today's cancer treatments (chemo, radiation) will be looked on with horror by then - after we develop genetically modified antibodies or something that kills only cancer cells.  Today's treatments, while advanced over just a few years ago, amount to trying to kill off the cancer without killing the patient (too much).   But I digress.

Robert, of course, was  a Senator and Attorney-General when his brother was President, and was faced with the difficult task of prosecuting the Mafia, which supposedly had helped his brother win the Presidency, or some such.   I do not have time to delve into conspiracy theories, which are just a waste of time.  But as we shall see, even Kennedys truck in them.

Robert had a nephew, well his wife did, anyway, who was convicted of bludgeoning to death a young girl in Greenwich Connecticut.  However, it took decades to convict him of the crime and eventually he was freed on appeal and the State declined to re-try him.  Supposedly he told a friend, "I can get away with murder - I'm a Kennedy!"

Sadly, this sort of became a pattern of bad behavior by hangers-on to the Kennedy clan.  Another cousin was acquitted of rape charges in what seemed an open-and-shut case - and others have come forward to report that he raped them as well.

And then there is Teddy.  We saw him once in a movie theater in Arlington, Virginia, when they were showing that movie "Nixon."  He visibly cringed when the Nixon character made derogatory comments about him on the screen.   While Teddy Kennedy accomplished many things as a Senator, he will be best known for Chappaquiddick, where he drove his car off a bridge and drowned a young woman - and then instead of seeking help, sought refuge with his family and legal team.

After incidents like this, the public sort of got tired of this idea of political dynasties - and that certain people were above the law - or so it seemed, anyway.

Of course, there is little John-John, who broke America's heart with his peppy salute at his Father's funeral.  He sort of became a playboy (see a pattern here?) and flew a plane into the darkness one night, without an instrument rating.  It is a common cause of plane crashes, but nevertheless the conspiracy theorists had a field day with it.  The Qanon people think that John-John (and even his Dad) will somehow come back from the dead (or never died?) and take over the world or something.  People are weird and crazy is the new normal.

The sad truth is that John-John died of narcissism. "I'm a Kennedy, I can do anything!" is what killed him.  But anyone who understands spatial disorientation knows how dangerous it is.   You can't "fly blind" by the "seat of your pants" as you will crash. Not "maybe" or "possibly" but a certain thing.

Understandably, people started succumbing to "Kennedy Fatigue" - there was such promise and hope when "the torch was passed to a new generation" but in retrospect, the only lasting thing of the Kennedy era was the tax cuts.  Even things like Civil Rights legislation had to wait until LBJ was President - and a lot of the social welfare legislation was passed in reaction to the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King.

Speaking of Robert, one of the weirdest aspects of the 1968 election was how Robert entered the race so late in the game and ended up winning the California primary.  I guess back then, you could throw your hat in the ring and come from behind and gain the nomination in a brokered convention.  Today, pundits call the race after the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa caucuses.  It was a different world back then.

In retrospect, was Kennedy a great President, or did we just project our hopes and dreams onto him?  After all, he oversaw the Bay of Pigs invasion (a total cock-up!) and the Cuban Missile Crises (which  thankfully resolved itself).  He wasn't in office long enough to accomplish much else.  And Robert never had a chance to accomplish much, either.  Maybe we have over-glamoruzed the Kennedy legacy to begin with.   Now that my Mother is safely in the grave, I can say that without fear of retribution.

Which brings us to Robert, Jr. (Bob-Bob?).  What a piece of work and the final nail in the coffin of the Kennedy legacy.  A massive drug addict (take that, Hunter Biden!) he joined the "River Keeper" organization and then later on claimed to have created it.  When he finally quit, the real founder of the organization said, "good riddance!"

Today, Bob-Bob is all 'roided up and chock full of conspiracy theories, particularly with regard to vaccines.  Oh, and he's running for President - as a Democrat - because, well, narcissism.  Speaking of narcissists, he goes on the Joe Rogain podcast, which is a favorite of incel teens and 20-somethings and blathers on about vaccines, "challenging" people to debate him. That would be about as fruitful as debating a flat-earther, which for all I know, Bob-Bob also is.

You can't "debate" nonsense, simply because the people who believe these things engage in tactics like Gish-Gallop and Whataboutism, which means that before you can address even one "point" of their "argument" they have flooded you with ten more specious, made-up things.  The idiots who believe in such things all say, "hoo-haw!" as the audience in a "Trump Town Hall" would do.  "He really owned them libs!" It is not intellectual debate, it is just name-calling and made-up bullshit.

Grown-ups have better things to do with their time.

But it raises the question, what the fuck happened to the Kennedy family?  Was mental illness always an aspect of the family genealogy?  Or being born to money with a famous name turns one into a raging narcissist who thinks they can literally get away with murder, rape, and lying?

Maybe that is one reason Americans dislike political dynasties - even though we've elected a few.  One of the things that stuck in the craw of even Democrats was how Hillary called herself "the presumptive nominee" and said "It's my turn!" as if she was entitled to be President.  Democrats elected Obama instead.

The reality is, I think, that insanity runs in nearly every family.  My Mother was off-kilter as I noted before, and alcoholism ran in my Father's family - as it does in any decent Irish clan.  I have relatives today who are medicated or even institutionalized.  Others are survivors.  I guess the difference between us and the Kennedys is we don't have a famous name or were born with trust funds and family lawyers to bail us out of jams.

Over the years, the Kennedy mystique has acquired more and more tarnish, to the point where it barely exists. People still harbored warm feelings about JFK and felt sorry for poor Jackie.  But I think even that has been swept away with time and the subsequent generations behaving badly.  Today, young Bob-Bob has utterly destroyed Camelot - burned it to the ground, stomped on the ashes, and salted the very earth.

What a sad end to what could have been a great legacy.

P.S.- Have you noticed how "Cape Kennedy" is now called "Cape Canaveral" again?  DeSantis!!!! (Just kidding!).