Viewpoint: The legacy and the curse of President Kennedy


    By Lindsey Stimpson

    “Let the word go forth from this time and this place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new Generation of Americans,” President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address in 1961. Directed to the entire nation, or perhaps directly to his children, nieces and nephews, President Kennedy”s words couldn”t be more applicable to the third generation of the Kennedy clan.

    “America”s royal family” captured the public”s attention in the 1930s and continues to captivate the masses and the media more than 70 years later. It is now the third generation of Kennedys that increasingly illustrates a recurring paradox of triumph and tragedy. Through the media”s spotlight, the third generation of the Kennedy family juxtaposes public service with public scandal.

    The family”s sense of political obligation began in the first generation of Kennedys when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Joseph P. Kennedy ambassador to Britain in 1938. Joe passed his political aspirations to his sons and they amplified his ambitions. John (“Jack”), Robert and Edward (“Ted”) served most notably as president, attorney general and senator, respectively. Ted still holds a seat in the U.S. Senate and now sits as the third most senior member.

    The second generation then passed the family commitment to public service to the third. As the family is now entrenched in public service, the venues are expanding beyond elected positions to roles as activists. Human rights, mental retardation and education are among the top priorities of Kennedy activism.

    Maria Shriver, the wife of newly-elected California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and second child of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (Joe and Rose”s fifth child) and Sargent Shriver, is the Kennedy with the most public attention currently. Playing a key role in Schwarzenegger”s recall campaign, Shriver provided a lifeline especially, when allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.

    Gregory Payne, a student of political communications at Emory University, said Shriver”s “Kennedy charm,” “rhetoric” and “understanding of politics” provided a valuable asset to the Schwarzenegger campaign.

    Timothy Shriver, Eunice and Sargent”s third child, travels a different road of social activism. Timothy engages in public service as the Chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics Organization is in its entirety a product of the Kennedy Family. Motivated by her mentally retarded older sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver began the organization in 1968 with funds from the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation. Both organizations are dedicated to research in and improvement of the lives of the mentally retarded. The Special Olympics continues to draw international participation and involvement form the entire Kennedy family.

    Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert and Ethel”s first child of 11, is the first woman in the Kennedy family to hold elected office. Townsend carried out the family dedication to public service between 1995 and 2003 as the lieutenant governor of Maryland. Townsend followed her uncles” path as she focused on crime and economic development. Her service through elected office ended when she lost the state”s gubernatorial election.

    “I loved being in politics,” Townsend said to the Pittsburgh post-gazette. “I”ve always had an interest in public life, and public service, and making a contribution.”

    Sen. Ted Kennedy”s youngest child, Patrick, filled the family”s obligation to public service when he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 1988. At the age of 21, he was the youngest Kennedy to be elected to office.

    Despite the activism and accomplishments of the third generation of Kennedys, the family is rarely mentioned without an accompanying comment, story or even novel about tragedy and scandal. Years of misfortune and embarrassment led the media to create the myth of “The Kennedy Curse.” From assassinations to alcohol to affairs and even charges of murder, the Kennedy family stays in the public eye as episodes of a real life soap opera play out in front of the American public.

    Two of the nine siblings in the second generation of Kennedys were assassinated (John and Robert), two died in plane crashes (Joe and Kathleen) and one continues to suffer from mental retardation (Rosemary). The youngest in the second generation, Sen. Ted Kennedy, experienced his share of scandal and simultaneously destroyed any hopes of running for president when he drove off a bridge in 1969 on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass. Sen. Kennedy walked away, while the passenger, aide Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed in the accident. Ted later pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.

    The third generation of Kennedys especially epitomizes the family”s captivating contrast of achievement, tragedy and scandal. Of Jack and Jacki”s family, the oldest daughter Caroline is the lone survivor of the clan. Her youngest brother Patrick died two days after his was born, while John Jr. died with his wife and sister-in-law when his self-piloted plane crashed in the Atlantic in 1999.

    Joseph Kennedy III, the eldest of RFK”s 11 children, made headlines with an infamous car accident in 1973. The female passenger was paralyzed for life, and Joe was convicted of reckless driving. David, the forth child in Robert”s family, died from overdosing on cocaine at the age of 28. Fate was not any kinder to Michael L. Kennedy, Robert and Ethel”s sixth child. One year after being accused of having an affair with his family”s teenage babysitter, Michael died in a Colorado skiing accident in 1998.

    William K. Smith, Jean Kennedy (Joe and Rose”s eighth child) and Stephen Smith”s second son, contributed to the list of family scandals when he was accused, tried and acquitted of rape in a nationally televised trial.

    And, finally, the most recent and publicized scandal connected to the Kennedy clan is the 2002 trial and conviction of Michael Skakel for the murder 1976 of Martha Moxley. Skakel is a cousin to Robert and Ethel Kennedy”s children.

    “The torch has been passed to a new generation,” President Kennedy said more than forty years ago. The torch of the Kennedy legacy has been to the family”s third generation. Just as in previous generations however, the growing flames of achievement burn alongside flames of heartbreak and scandal.

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