29. August 2009 · Comments Off on Talking about the C-C-Camelot Generation · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Good God, History, Politics

The title of this post really should read “Talkin’ ’bout the C-C-Camelot Generation” but unusual punctuation in the title freaks out the whole entry, and prevents anyone posting comments.

No – for whatever reason, I was never much enamored of the Kennedy clan, all their works and all their ways, even during the so-called Golden Age of Camelot. Blame it on Mom and Dad, who were moderate Republicans at the time, and politically aware, if not particularly active. Blame it on the fact that we weren’t big TV-watchers, in any sense of the word, blame it on the fact that generally we were resistant to going along with the flow: no, we were never spectacularly non-conformist, we just dug in our heels whenever everyone else seemed to be urging us to go along with the flow. In the words of Granny Jessie, “Would you be jumping off a cliff, if everyone else were doing it?”

Whatever the appeal of Camelot was, perhaps we just had a sense that it was glamour, in the old sense of the word, of a fair appearance created by a magic spell, of something shimmering and marvelous in appearance, cast over an unappealing, and even ugly reality, something tinsel and fake, manufactured by experts to beguile the susceptible. And so it eventually turned out to be, as the spell faded and more and more of the ugliness began to show. The Kennedys were, in the words of P.J. O’Rourke, just a rich, bad, arrogant family who thought the world would be a much better place if only they were in charge – and they ought to be in charge, of course, because they were so handsome, rich and clever. But overweening pride – or hubris, as the ancient Greeks used to call it – leads the proud to their own downfall, and so we have been watching the Kennedy drama unfold for the last forty years or so. Sophocles couldn’t have done any better, although I think only one of those spectacularly overwrought and multi-generational telenovelas could have done the Kennedy saga true justice, in every twist and turn – of trials, divorces, and sudden deaths, dizzying ascents, and the sudden hand of tragedy sweeping the chessboard, of lackeys and lick-spittle toadies, death in war, in accidents and by assassin, sex and drunkenness, dirty political deals and corruption, of unspeakable heartbreak and infidelity, of behaving like a drunken lecherous boor in public or in semi-public, and yet being able to a compliant press draw a nice tidy veil over it. It is the stuff of soap operas, to have a have a daughter with emotional or developmental problems lobotomized and ‘disappeared’ for decades, to have cavorted with movie stars, relatives by marriage, and campaign volunteers, flirted with Nazis in the days when it was (barely) politically possible to do business with Herr Hitler, to have contributed to organizations underwriting terrorism in Northern Ireland, and to walk away from an auto-wreck leaving another human being to drown.

This weekend, the regular media are full of elegies for Camelot, and the last and least of the sons of Old Joe Kennedy, who groomed them all with brutal energy to assume the highest offices in the land, but never got farther than a comfortable berth in the most exclusive gentleman’s club in the land. And so the story has come full-circle, the spell of glamour – if not broken – at least in tattered and unconvincing shreds. As hard as the Kennedy machine, and the Kennedy magic could work, they never managed to pull him much farther than that – and one senses the wheels and gears within are about stripped. The generations of Kennedys following after have barely managed to accomplish even that: not even Caroline Kennedy could talk herself into assuming a vacant seat, not after coming off like a ditzy East-coast Valley girl in television interviews. I think my last word on Ted Kennedy would be what I wrote in a comment at Chicagoboyz last week –

“That’s the failing that people – across the board, politically – can never forgive. Not so much because his initial actions, his drunkenness and stupidity put his car off the road in a relatively shallow body of water – it’s because he panicked, and thought only of himself.
And if he had any scrap of self-awareness, any sense of the obligations that are due from anyone who has a pretense of calling themselves a responsible human being, he wouldn’t have been in the position that he has been, ever since that fatal night.
He must lived the rest of his life knowing that if he had only thought heroically, thought of someone else besides himself, been a sensible, sober and responsible human being – gone to the nearest house and called for help – she might have been rescued in time. He might have been able to live down the temporary embarrassment, had a heck of a lot to explain the next morning but … He was a Kennedy, and one of those-so-called charismatic Kennedy-generation Kennedys, after all, of whom much is expected and a lot forgiven – but no. He thought first, foremost and always of himself, drunk and sober.
What we want, I think, of our politicians, is that they at least make a good pretense of thinking of the better good, and of making a more convincing show of caring abut of the people they make a great show of pretending to care about. Ted Kennedy couldn’t even be bothered, in that particular instance and that particular crisis, and so the very nakedness of that ‘don’t care-think-of-myself’ resonates after all this time.
His older brother, for all you might say about him politically – swam a good distance in a South Sea ocean, towing an injured crewman from his PT boat, after the same was sunk in a collision with a Japanese warship. JFK didn’t leave a friend/crewmate/acquaintance behind. And Teddy did. And had to bear that knowledge for all time.
No wonder he turned into a drunk – if he hadn’t already been one before.”

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