Political Hay

Dynasty Defenders

Hillary gets a little help from Bobby's kids.

By 1.15.08

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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- During a surrogate rally for Hillary Clinton in the waning days of the New Hampshire primary race Kerry Kennedy, seventh of Robert F. Kennedy's eleven children and former wife of Andrew Cuomo, was telling fifteen residents of Tarrytown Road Senior Apartments the tale of Sister Dianna Ortiz's 1989 inhuman torture in Guatemala when a sweet grandmotherly figure interrupted.

"I'm sorry, I have to leave, but I've already voted for Hilary Clinton and I just wanted to come by and say...the Kennedys are the best people in the world!" the woman gushed, surveying the room with a smile. "I can tell he's Bobby's kid" -- she nodded at Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., then turned back to Kerry -- "and I can tell you're his kid."

"That's my sister Kathleen," Kerry prompted absently, pointing out her sister, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, seated amongst the hoi polloi.

"How ya doing Kathy?" the woman enthused, backing out the door. "Okay, I have to go to a birthday party or I'd stay."

"Have fun Esther," someone called out.

"Enjoy yourself!" Kerry added warmly, framed by leftover Christmas stockings decorated with Rudolph and Santa Claus and trumpeting angels. "So, anyway, Dianna was teaching these Mayan children how to read and write when she was captured by Guatemalan security forces. And she was taken to a secret place where she was tortured for four days and she was gang raped and she was thrown in a pit full of bodies and was horribly, horribly tortured."

DURING A HOTLY CONTESTED election in which pundits are comparing her primary opponent to Bobby Kennedy, it was politically priceless for Clinton to have the children of the legendary martyred senator on the trail endorsing her, reminding people who now occupies their father's seat...and whose ascendance to the presidency may deliver Bobby Jr. to that same seat without forcing him to run a gauntlet of evil election-stealing Diebold voting machines.

Nevertheless, with all the talk of gang rapes and hundreds of cigarette burns, the event was clearly getting a bit heavier than these who giddily awaited the arrival of the "Bobby's kids" -- as more than one resident called them -- had anticipated. Residents had been told each Kennedy would "give a little chitchat about how they feel about Hillary." They were getting something considerably more intense.

The woman who bade Esther a good afternoon now gazed out the window as if wishing she too had a birthday party to attend. An elderly man stared longingly at boxes of Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, which shared a table a few feet away with a slew of Hillary Clinton campaign endorsed I Can Be President T-shirts for toddlers -- talk about lacking experience! -- as Kennedy detailed nefarious U.S. diplomats' plots to dismiss Ortiz's ordeal as "a lesbian love affair gone awry."

This slur stood, Kennedy insisted, until more than a decade later when Hillary Clinton visited Ortiz's White House vigil and subsequently "called together the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department" and forced the release of all files on torture in Guatemala.

Not bad for a First Lady, eh?! Kennedy presented this story as proof Hillary not only "deeply cares about people," but will be able to "wrangle" bureaucracies and build a nation she could teach her daughters to be proud of -- something that apparently cannot be done when the Dark Side wins an election or two.

Never mind that Ortiz's name doesn't appear in the index of Living History. (And as anyone who has read Hillary's autobiography can tell you, it isn't like the author to fail to note any of her Hero for Humanity! moments.) Set aside, also, Ortiz's own absolutely harrowing account of her ordeal, The Blindfold's Eyes, in which, while recognizing the welcome spotlight Hillary's vigil visit shone on her cause, she ultimately credits Amnesty International and Congress with pressuring Bill Clinton to release the Guatemalan torture files. Ortiz never doubted Hillary's good intentions, to be sure, but she did fear the First Lady might be impotent in a confrontation with the "old boys' network of secrecy."

Kerry Kennedy actually receives more outright kudos in Ortiz's book than Hillary does.

NOT LONG INTO RFK Jr.'s pitch for Hillary, the reason why the much-heralded environmental attorney and author never wound up working in the White House Press Corps -- a "karaoke group," he sneers -- suddenly, dramatically materializes.

"I want them to ask him: 'Has there ever been a president in history worse than you, and if so, name who he is?'" he fairly shouted. "You can't think of one!"

Perhaps it's all for the best. David Gregory doesn't need the competition, Helen Thomas hasn't so far hit the jackpot with that same shtick, and the confines of a press briefing would likely not provide Kennedy, who recently abandoned a book on St. Francis of Assisi to write a series of children's books on American heroes, the kind of freedom necessary to trumpet the apocalypse that, say, a retirement home community speech allows.

"We've been through a national nightmare in this country," Kennedy railed, painting a portrait of a Bush Administration that had used "all kinds of ingenious machinations to conceal its radical agenda from the American people, including Orwellian rhetoric," and filled government with individuals willing to subvert the law in order to "enrich the president's corporate paymasters." Now we were hated in the countries that jubilantly greeted him and his father in the 1960s, he said.

"It took 230 years of disciplined, visionary, restrained leadership by Republican and Democratic presidents alike to build up those vast reservoirs, those oceans of public love for our country and our people," Kennedy said, "and in five short years, through monumental incompetence and arrogance these people in the White House have drained this reservoir dry."

And who do you call when you want a vast reservoir of love replenished? Improbable as it may seem the answer is...Hillary Clinton, not to be confused with any past ne'er-do-wells the Democratic Party may have put up.

"You remember Jimmy Carter?" Kennedy asked. Most nodded, some with sudden bemused smiles, more than a few looking as if they retired before Carter left office. "He had many wonderful ideas about human rights, about how to make our country a dignified place, but...he didn't know how to do the things you need to do to govern."

James Earl Carter, Jr. was, in short, no Hillary Clinton, and Kennedy added, "In many ways, we have to go back to that Golden Age of the Clinton presidency." The choice laid out that day in the Tarrytown Road Senior Apartments, however, was not between Gold or Silver ages, but either a Golden Age or something resembling Dante's Fifth Circle of Hell. (Sure, we could bump it up to the Ninth Circle, but there is no need for hyperbole at a time like this.) Suffice to say, Split-Pea Positivity was not the soup of the day in the Bobby's kids' New Hampshire kitchen.

Hillary's "competence" and "experience" were presented as a bulwark against the imminent downfall of the Shining City upon a Hill itself. Bush, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend argued, was the "worst president we've had in our history." Worse: "Absolutely the worst." And Hillary? "She could have done anything," Kathleen said dreamily. "She wanted to help children. And that's what I love about her. She's had a passion for kids her entire life."

Not Mark Foley kid-passion, mind you. More like, justify-every-expansion-of-government-as-for-the-kids kid-passion.

Kerry Kennedy lamented she would "spend the rest of my life undoing what this administration has done last seven years." Bobby repeated this cry. Kathleen nodded her assent vigorously. Pleasant as they are in conversation after the speeches, one can't help escape the conclusion that recent years have left Bobby's kids with a dour world outlook. Seeing how upset they are is almost enough to make you vote for a Clinton Restoration, just as an act of personal charity.

Almost.

Unsurprising, then, that it was the residents, thrilled though they were to have met authentic Kennedys, who made the more compelling argument.

"I'm 85 years old and I'd like to see a woman president before I die," Margaret Batchelder offered simply. She never bragged about it, but later I was told Batchelder was an indefatigable campaigner for Hillary, licking envelopes, holding signs, making phone calls. "Once when I said that, one of the old men here told me, 'America will never vote for a woman president.'"

"What did you say?" I asked.

"Why, I said, 'Don't bet your life on it.'"

Maybe this was when I should have had the first inkling that the conventional wisdom of Barack Obama walking off with the prize was a bit off.

THERE IS TOO MUCH water under the bridge for anyone to believe Clinton II would spark the return of Camelot. Still, later I had to ask Robert: Did he see any similarities between the Clinton and Kennedy families?

"I could make comparisons between my family and a lot of families on many different levels, which is something I'd rather not do, because it really is more about the individual and I believe in Hillary as an individual for this job," Kennedy answered, explaining that he called Clinton campaign headquarters as soon as she announced to offer his services. "But you could say, generally, the Clintons share with my family a vision of what this country could and should be."

Is that enough to neutralize Barack's Bobby Kennedy shine? As Hillary Clinton would surely say, From Robert Kennedy's lips to South Carolina voters' ears.

American Spectator Contributing Editor Shawn Macomber is writing a book on the Global Class War.

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