Rep. Patrick Kennedy has come out swinging against the man who now sits in the Senate seat his father held for 47 years. Telling a blog for the Hill newspaper that Senator Scott Brown was “in the tank for the Republicans,” the Rhode Island Democrat called Brown’s candidacy a “joke.”
The putdown is a familiar one for the Kennedy family. Forty-eight years ago, a thirty-year-old Ted Kennedy heard the same taunt from his primary opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Edward McCormack: “If his name was Edward Moore, with his qualifications — with your qualifications, Teddy — if it was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke. But nobody’s laughing because his name is not Edward Moore. It’s Edward Moore Kennedy.” Kennedy, after all, had never held a steady paying job, save for a two-year stint in the Army, prior to winning the Senate seat. At Harvard he had been kicked out for cheating and at the University of Virginia’s law school he had led police on drunken high speed chases. The young playboy’s appearance on the Senate floor a day after his election must have struck observers then the way Senator Paris Hilton would appear to us today.
Though the shoe fit for Ted Kennedy back in 1962, the “joke” tag seems an odd one for Senator Scott Brown. Brown’s father didn’t buy him the election. The president and the attorney general aren’t his brothers. His grandfather wasn’t the mayor of Boston. A family friend wasn’t appointed placeholder senator for his benefit. A product of a broken home, Brown and his mother briefly relied on welfare. He is a graduate of the public schools and used ROTC, and a much publicized semi-nude spread in Cosmopolitan, to help fund his education. Scott Brown is the anti-Kennedy.
Instead of the advantages of name and money enjoyed by the Kennedys, Scott Brown faced a 31-point deficit in the polls less than two months before his election. Brown could not look to his party for a single statewide or federal office holder from Massachusetts. So pathetic had the Massachusetts Republican Party become that it fielded opponents in just four of ten House races in 2008, not eclipsing the 30 percent mark in any of those contests. Both houses of the Massachusetts General Court have been in Democrat hands for more than a half century. Yet, Brown managed to paint the bluest state red (if for only one election).
Patrick Kennedy’s outburst seems less reflection of Brown’s candidacy than projection of the eight-term congressman’s own woes. In May of 2006, Kennedy infamously crashed his headlights-off Mustang into a Capitol Police barrier. Appearing drunk to some officers at the scene, the congressman claimed he was “late for a vote” — at 2:45 a.m. Kennedy nevertheless avoided a field sobriety test and received a ride home. The obligatory rehab stint followed, which was followed by yet another one last June. Atop bouts with cocaine, alcohol, and OxyContin, Kennedy has battled bipolar disorder.
These demons appear to have influenced Kennedy’s erratic headline-grabbing behavior. In 2000, he abandoned a yacht off Martha’s Vineyard that a rental company charged he had trashed to the tune of $28,000 in damages. The same year he shoved a female airport security guard at LAX in a do-you-know-who-I-am moment. To a meeting of Young Democrats in 2003, a candid Kennedy boasted: “I have never worked a f—ing day in my life.” Though Kennedy hails from the most Catholic state in the union, he last year strangely publicized a past row with his bishop regarding the impropriety of the pro-abortion-rights representative receiving communion and launched an attack on the Catholic Church for its objections to abortion funding within the health-care legislation supported by the president.
Kennedy’s bizarre behavior may have finally overshadowed his name and fortune. A poll released last week by Providence’s WPRI-TV reported Patrick Kennedy’s disapproval ratings at 62 percent throughout Rhode Island and 56 percent within his district. Rhode Island state representative John J. Loughlin II, a well-funded Scott Brown-clone who has hired several of the key operatives behind the Massachusetts Miracle, announced his candidacy against Kennedy on Thursday. Should the National Guard veteran win, it would mark the first Congress without a Kennedy in almost a half-century.
Even the colorful Buddy Cianci, the ex-con “Prince of Providence,” mulls a run for Kennedy’s seat. “Patrick is definitely, in my opinion, beatable. He’s not as strong as he used to be,” the former mayor of Providence told the Boston Herald last month. “He’s had a number of problems that have distracted him from the business of governing and legislating.”
That’s a nuanced way of saying that Patrick Kennedy is a joke. And in the midst of a 13 percent statewide unemployment rate, few Rhode Islanders find it funny anymore to send a mentally-ill recovering drug addict to the House of Representatives for another term.