Political Hay

They Don’t Make Kennedys Like They Used To

Max Kennedy shows cousin Caroline how to bow out gracefully.

By 1.8.09

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Caroline Kennedy wants to be the next senator from New York. Unfortunately, her much publicized rollout has not been a profile in competence.

Things famously didn't go so well when she spoke to a couple of reporters from the New York Times. An unhealthy smattering of "ums" and a liberal dose of "you knows" has called her frontrunner status into question. Not to mention her defensiveness when asked at what point she concluded this was the time to seek such high office. Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin described her as having "flubbed the audition to become the next Senator Kennedy."

She's not the first Kennedy who didn't live up to the family name. In May 2001, Democratic Congressman Joe Moakley died after a year-long battle with cancer. Moakley served Massachusetts' 9th District for nearly thirty years and was enormously popular with his South Boston constituents. He was equally popular with his colleagues on Capitol Hill. As if that weren't enough he was also held in enormous esteem by President Bush, who wished him well in his first State of the Union address and devoted his first Rose Garden signing ceremony to a bill naming a federal courthouse in Boston for Moakley.

There were some big shoes to fill in the 9th District. Enter Max Kennedy. The son of the late Robert F. Kennedy quickly expressed interest in running for one of the safest Democratic seats in the country by purchasing a home in the district. Kennedy, who was 36 at the time, had no previous political experience. But he did have the Kennedy name.

However, his political debut was a disaster. When Kennedy made his first public speech, the Los Angeles Times reported, "Kennedy stumbled badly. He scratched his head, giggled nervously, lost his place several times and misnamed at least one member of the U.S. Supreme Court."

It also didn't help matters when it came to light that he had been charged with assaulting a campus police officer at Harvard University in 1983. Even worse, this incident also involved his cousin Michael Skakel, who was at that time awaiting trial for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley (he would be convicted the following year and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison).

On June 12, 2001, Max Kennedy announced he would not seek the Democratic Party nomination to fill the vacancy in the 9th District. The vacancy was instead filled by Massachusetts State Senator Stephen Lynch, who still holds this seat.

Shortly after he dropped out of the race, TAS founder and editor-in-chief R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. concluded that Kennedy dropped out of the 9th District race not because of one bad speech but rather because he was being made into something he wasn't by both Ted Kennedy and Al Gore's people: "I think Max's instinct was right," Tyrrell wrote. "He is a really nice guy. He convinced me a decade ago that he was open to other points of view. Had I been around to advise him, I would have said, 'Let Kennedy be Kennedy.' And dump those advisors. They are not all that necessary when the candidate has charm and sufficient intellect."

Life went on for Max Kennedy. Like his cousin Caroline, he campaigned vigorously for Barack Obama in 2008. No doubt his public speaking skills are much better. Kennedy also released a book in November titled Danger's Hour. It is about the Japanese kamikaze attack on the USS Bunker Hill during the Okinawa invasion in May 1945. But there's no indication he plans to join the family business.

So where does this leave Caroline Kennedy?  Will she take a cue from her cousin and abruptly withdraw her name from consideration? Or will she try to redeem herself by landing an interview with Barbara Walters or on 60 Minutes? Of course, even if she hadn't stumbled all over her words, there is little to prevent Governor David Paterson from choosing someone like New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (who was once married to Kerry Kennedy, another cousin of Caroline and Max's older sister) or actress turned healthcare activist Fran Drescher or -- someone else altogether.

If there isn't another Senator Kennedy from New York, the "ums" and "uhs" will loom large. Perhaps Caroline, like Max, is better suited to some other vocation besides the rough-and-tumble world of electoral politics. If so, one can only conclude by her failure to realize this on her own that they don't make Kennedys like they used to.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.