The Kennedys fought with the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Hoffa, and Robert Bork over the duration of thirteen presidential administrations. Now that no Kennedy holds political office in Washington, they’re fighting each other.
The family feud involves two iconic landmarks: the Kennedy Cape Cod compound and the John F. Kennedy Library overlooking Dorchester Bay.
In Hyannis Port, Ted Kennedy’s heirs prepare to transform the waterfront mansion the family has owned for 85 years into a retreat for thinkers and politicians contemplating public policy. The compound where early movie-mogul Joe Kennedy screened films for starlet Gloria Swanson, where the brood played touch-football games, and where Ted secluded himself after Chappaquiddick will morph from a familiar family gathering spot to a meeting place for strangers. The neighbors — i.e., others Kennedys who have purchased homes adjacent to the main house — are perturbed.
So, one might deduce, is the longtime owner. “Rose wanted to turn the place over to the Benedictine monks before she died,” Benedict Fitzgerald, the family matriarch’s personal attorney, told author Joe Klein for his book Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died. “I drew up the legal papers for her on my front porch. But when Ted found out about it, he ripped the thing in half. There was no way he was going to have the place turned into a monastery.”
Wresting control of the property from mother Rose, Ted Kennedy instructed his heirs to deed it to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Instead of a house of God, the property will become a Temple of Ted.
The breaking up of the Kennedy compound reverberates further north on the Massachusetts coast. The family of Robert F. Kennedy, whose papers are stored at the John F. Kennedy Library, threatens to remove the archived material relating to the slain attorney general and senator. The library offered to name a 30,000-square-foot wing in honor of Robert Kennedy to placate his family but only managed to further inflame matters. As former Congressman Joseph Kennedy recently groused, “They offered to put the name on a hallway.”
Even before it opened, the John F. Kennedy Library’s overtures to Robert Kennedy’s family had provoked their ire. Future Congressman Joe Kennedy spitefully threatened to boycott the October 21, 1979 dedication of the presidential library because the cinematic tribute it made to his father was considerably shorter than the film honoring John F. Kennedy. In 1991, the library angered Robert’s widow Ethel when it named a meeting facility for Stephen Smith, the Kennedy in-law who oversaw family business and managed the presidential campaigns of Robert and Ted Kennedy. The library’s decision to release 63 boxes of the former attorney general’s papers dealing with Vietnam, civil rights, and other sensitive topics has unleashed the most recent threat to take the papers elsewhere.
If readers uninitiated in Kennedyana find it comical that the family of an attorney general distinguished (?) primarily for ordering the shameful snooping on Martin Luther King demands equal billing at a presidential museum, then the money-dripping family once mistaken as the American arm of the Catholic Church reneging on a commitment to deed property to monks vowing poverty will seem hilarious. To those remembering the great promise of Camelot, all of this appears pathetic.
Kennedys fighting over their past is certainly preferable to Kennedys fighting over your present. The post-politics Kennedys reduced from above-the-fold hard news to TMZ is a sign of the family’s decline from a royalty that rules to a royalty that rules the tabloids. We know you are history when your history preoccupies.
Internecine battles are nothing new to the Kennedys. Twelve years before he loudly undermined President Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy quietly cast an Ike ballot after the Democratic nominee rejected a Stevenson-Kennedy ticket. Ted Kennedy similarly maneuvered behind the scenes in 1972 to scuttle George McGovern picking Boston Mayor Kevin White as a running mate and coldly refused to raise President Jimmy Carter’s hand on the platform at the fractured 1980 Democratic convention.
The more unfaithful their actions toward their party, the more the party faithful adored them. As the Kennedys fought other Democrats, their heirs fight other Kennedys.
With 2011 marking the first year since 1946 without a Kennedy in Washington, the family isn’t in a position to cannibalize their party. Instead, they’ve turned on one another. Democrats should be grateful.