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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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December 31, 2008
The “Kennedy dynasty” myth has created an impression among some Americans that if you are a Kennedy, your genes somehow include the promise if not the certainty of dedicated public service.
A corollary to this belief is that if you are a Kennedy who aspires to public office, you should be first in line.
These thoughts are prompted, of course, by the current case of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, offering herself as a candidate—by appointment, of course, so she wouldn’t have to deal with the messy business of an election campaign—for the United State Senate seat which will be vacated in January when Hillary Clinton resigns to become Secretary of State.
Caroline Kennedy’s interest in public office has been one of the Kennedy clan’s best kept secrets. On the other hand, it might be that there was not much of a secret to keep.
It might be that Caroline Kennedy’s interest in public office was created, or at least stimulated, by the possibility of a political slam dunk—the possibility of attaining high level public office without an election and without showing any evidence of qualifications, except that she is a Kennedy.
Without suggesting that Caroline Kennedy has any of the character flaws which other members of the Kennedy clan have demonstrated from time to time, it might be an appropriate time to recall some of the shameful chapters in the history of the Kennedy dynasty.
If you’re not interested in a somewhat lengthy (at least somewhat lengthy for one of my columns) discussion of the “Kennedy dynasty” history, I suggest you skip the portion starting with the headline “What A Founding Father!” and direct your attention to the rest of the column, starting with the headline “A Nice Package Of Good News: About UNL And The Perlman Clan.” The items thereafter are more varied and shorter.
Incidentally but importantly, I detail some of the history of the Kennedy clan, especially the disreputable record of the founding father, not to suggest that Caroline Kennedy as a United States senator would write any kind of questionable personal conduct into the Kennedy family history book. But such conduct is a part of that family history and it seems to me to diminish the validity of any suggestion that a Kennedy deserves special consideration as a political candidate because he or she is part of the Kennedy dynasty.
* * *
The “founding father” of the Kennedy dynasty was Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr., a man of questionable principles in his business, political and private lives.
Part of a political family in Boston, Joe Kennedy was born in 1888, attended Harvard University, then started a carrier in finance, building a large fortune as a stock market and commodity speculator by investing in real estate and a wide range of industries including Hollywood movie studios. His Hollywood experiences included a widely known affair with film star Gloria Swanson.
None of Joe Kennedy’s business was built from scratch. According to one biographical account, he sometimes made use of inside information in ways which would later be made illegal. He had a reputation as a bootlegger during the era when importation and sale of hard liquor was prohibited in the United States. After the end of prohibition he became the exclusive American agent for Gordon’s gin and Dewar’s Scotch.
It was as United States ambassador to Great Britain—he was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt—that Joe Kennedy’s received the greatest public attention—attention which ultimately forced him to resign.
Kennedy rejected the warnings of Winston Churchill that compromise with Nazi Germany was impossible. In an interview in the Boston Sunday Globe in November, 1940, Ambassador Kennedy said: “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.” He was asked to resign as ambassador.
Several sources reported anti-Jewish comments by Kennedy in a variety of conversations, including one in June, 1938, with the German ambassador in London.
The “founding father” of the Kennedy dynasty later had close ties with Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy. Kennedy often brought McCarthy to his summer home as a weekend houseguest. In 1953, reportedly at Kennedy’s urging, McCarthy hired Robert Kennedy, then 27, as a senior staff member of the Senate’s Investigation Subcommittee, which McCarthy headed. Kennedy resigned from McCarthy’s staff the next year.
After his forced exit from public office, Joe Kennedy was determined that Joe Kennedy, Jr. would become President of the United States. When Joe, Jr., a Navy flyer, died in a mission over the English Channel during World War II, the founding father concentrated on putting his second son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in the White House. He played a leading role in soliciting political support and financing of John F. Kennedy’s successful presidential campaign in 1960.
In the history of the “Kennedy dynasty,” founding father Joe was responsible for the most shameful chapters. But at least two other chapters didn’t enhance the family image.
One such chapter is well told on the Public Broadcasting Service “American Experience” website in its biography of John F. Kennedy:
“As a young senator, Jack courted and married Jacqueline Bouvier, a journalist twelve years his junior. Though Jackie was charming and beautiful, being married did not dissuade Jack from his constant philandering…His love affairs before and after marriage included liaisons with a suspected Nazi spy, a mobster’s girlfriend, a nineteen-year-old intern and Marilyn Monroe."
“Although many journalists were aware of Kennedy’s peccadilloes, they did not publicize them, either because they felt the topic was taboo or because they had been charmed by Kennedy and wanted to protect him.”
(It should be added that John F. Kennedy achieved a number of noteworthy things during his assassination-shortened two years in the White House. Highlights of his performance included his gutsy successful handling of the Cuban missile crisis, an impressive record in support of civil rights legislation and establishment of the Peace Corps.)
The same PBS website tells this story of another shameful chapter in the Kennedy dynasty’s history:
“(Ted) Kennedy’s family legacy seemed to assure him a competitive candidacy for the presidency—but for a fatal mistake on July 18, 1969. Following a dutiful appreciation party for the ‘boiler room girls’ who had worked on his brother’s campaign, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. Although Kennedy managed to escape, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Furthermore, Kennedy did not report the incident immediately. Later, he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. Chappaquiddick seemed to quash Kennedy’s presidential prospects.”
The Chappaquiddick story reflected even more poorly on Ted Kennedy than does the PBS “American Experience” account.
After the car went into the water, Kennedy swam from the scene, crossing an inlet to shore where he spent the rest of the night in a hotel room, not reporting the incident until morning.
Kennedy has served as a United States senator since 1963.
* * *
UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman and wife Susan win the Andersen Award for the best holiday season greeting card for 2008.
In addition to an attractive picture of the Perlmans and their extended family, representing 11 “Degrees from Nebraska” and 4 “Future Huskers,” there are five numbers attractively displayed on simulated Christmas tree ornaments. Those numbers indicate something of the stature of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the way that stature is improving.
The numbers and their significance:
No. 1 rank in report on the “Most Popular Public Universities.”
2 important new facilities. Ken Morrison Life Science Research Facility and the International Quilt Study Center.
25-plus: Record average ACT for the entering class.
106 million dollars in research funding.
426 undergraduate students working with faculty on research projects.
Impressive numbers reflecting the growing stature of UNL, but the Perlman card says that those 11 degrees from Nebraska and 4 future Huskers are “numbers we’re particularly proud of.”
* * *
Several readers—bless their hearts—came to my defense against the critic who said I was simply a “grumpy old man.”
A reader in Norfolk wrote: “Grumpy old man? No way! Love your column and usually agree with 99% of it. My daughter called me a racist this fall for something I said about Obama, which had NOTHING to do with the color of his skin. So don’t take it too hard.”
A friendly comment came from another reader, an Omaha attorney who is a very good friend who has no hesitation to disagree with me when he thinks it’s justified. He wrote: “Andy, although it may be a sign that I am finally maturing, I agree with every point you made this time.”
And another reader offered this comment about stage show and movie reviewers: “Your comments on show reviewers were right on target. I have done the same thing with reviewer’s reviews. Once I get a “feel” for how the reviewer likes or dislikes a movie, I use that as a reverse barometer, in that if he/she likes it, I will probably dislike it. Keep up the great column.”
* * *
I can’t recall any University of Nebraska Cornhusker athletic team that I have been prouder of than this year’s volleyball team.
Here is a team which, after losing the first two sets to the University of Washington Huskies on the home floor in Seattle, rallied to take the next three games, win the regional tournament and earn a birth in the Final Four championships in Omaha.
Then, again two down after losing the first two sets to defending national champion Penn State, the Huskers rallied to win the next two sets—the only sets that Penn State lost during the entire season—and advanced to a 10-8 lead in the 15-point final set.
Penn State prevailed, 15-11. But as Husker Coach John Cook said, what will most be remembered about the 2008 Nebraska volleyball team will be their remarkably courageous performance, not the final score in the Penn State game.
* * *
How finish a column written on the last day of the Old Year? What uplifting words can be offered at a time when the great majority of Americans have been severely damaged economically from loss of jobs to drastic reduction in retirement assets to anywhere from 30 to 50% loss of the value of their life’s savings, the result primarily of politicians’ efforts to turn home ownership for credit-risky Americans into a sort of federal welfare program.
An answer to how to finish today’s column was suggested to me in the wording of an invitation to an annual party that two good friends give each holiday season. The invitation suggested that while some values are falling in these hard economic times, their party offered an opportunity for an annual reunion of friends, and the value of friendships never declines but rather increases over the years.
So happy 2009 to you and those whose friendship you value!
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