Magazine article The Spectator

Going Their Way

Magazine article The Spectator

Going Their Way

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

`YOU have to wonder if it's something in the genes,' said the veteran Time magazine man, Hugh Sidey. To the historian Michael Beschloss, this latest tragedy had `almost Shakespearean' overtones, but, for the rest of us, as Michael Kennedy was lowered into his grave in Brookline, Massachusetts, there was mostly the forlorn sense that even Kennedy deaths aren't what they were. Michael's Uncle Joe was shot down over the Channel in 1944; his Aunt Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948; his Uncle Jack was assassinated in 1963; his father was killed in 1968; his brother David died of a cocaine overdose in a Palm Beach hotel room, which at least can be passed off as `wrestling with inner demons'. But Michael died on New Year's Eve at Aspen, playing pitch 'n' catch on skis with a water-bottle filled with snow, which he managed to catch just before hitting a tree.

The press did their best. `Ironically,' according to the New York Post, Michael's mother Ethel had `had a hand' in her son's `deadly game'. It was she who had brought the fatal snow-filled bottle, the icy chalice, up to the slopes at Michael's request. But, even as the clan gathered at Hyannis Port and the flag at the gate was lowered to half-mast, it was hard to escape the feeling that this death was just too silly to support the burdens of the Kennedy myths. There has always been a reckless side to the Kennedys, but until now the victims have mostly been those caught in the family's slipstream - from Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick to the former friend of Michael's brother Bobby Jnr, who last year was awarded a million dollars after Bobby, in one of the more benign cases of Kennedy Driving Syndrome, ran over her foot at an environmental-awareness festival.

It's been that way ever since childhood. When they were young, Michael and his siblings decided to have a go at baking muffins at Hyannis Port. His brother Joe lit the gas oven, but, unfortunately, their attention was distracted by a passing rabbit outside. `So they all go chasing after the rabbit,' recalled the family physician, Dr Watt. `In the meantime, this gal from South Carolina looks in and lights a match. It blew her right across the room. She went from black to white. She had flash burns.' After a week in hospital, she recovered.

Not all family friends are so lucky. After a cook-out on Nantucket, Joe borrowed a Jeep, crammed six pals into it, two standing in the back, and careered happily through the woods at breakneck speed, until he swerved to avoid another truck and all seven occupants were thrown from the vehicle. One of those standing, a teenage girl, injured her spine. In court, Joe was fined S100 and the judge told him he had 'a great father and a great mother' (Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy). Pam Kelley remains paralysed from the waist down. It's a measure of the family's diminished status that Kennedy excess should now be rebounding on the Kennedys themselves.

There are now more Kennedys than even the swollen political establishment of Massachusetts can support. At the funeral of Michael's grandmother Rose in 1995, the relatives present included one US senator, two US congressmen plus the lieutenant-governor of Maryland and a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. According to the calculations of the Washingtonian magazine, 256 Kennedys would be holding political office by the year 2050, and 4,096 by the end of the 21st century. Many of them have the same names. Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, son of Bobby, is the congressman from Massachusetts; Patrick Joseph Kennedy, son of Ted, is the congressman from Rhode Island; or, if you prefer, Patrick Joseph was a bona fide drug addict, while Joseph Patrick merely `abused drugs'. If that's still unclear, the cover of the New Republic, which last year profiled young Joe, provided a useful shorthand: `The Dumbest Kennedy', a title for which the competition grows ever more intense.

As Bobby did for Jack and as Ted did for Bobby, it was Joe II who led the eulogies for his 39-year-old brother, cut down in the prime of his ski vacation. …

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