So the last of the brothers passed away; now who’ll keep the dream alive?
That’s what those Kennedy boys were all about – the notion that we could be bigger than ourselves. And that’s why so many people the world over looked up to them. They were a symbol of a land of opportunity where, with hard work, your dreams would come true.
They had their flaws – some grievous – but so had Hamilton, Jefferson and Roosevelt. We overlooked those shortcomings, because they gave much and, after all, we’re in the business of electing politicians not altar boys.
The Kennedys epitomized the ideal that if you get ahead, you should stretch a hand back to those left behind.
That particular ethos originated for them on a small farm in Dunganstown, County Wexford where Patrick Kennedy weathered the worst of the famine years of 1845-47. When he sailed for Boston in 1848 he could not help but take with him the sights, sounds and smells of that holocaust.
He bequeathed them to his son, the saloonkeeper, PJ, and they were, in turn, passed on to his grandson, Joseph, who made a fortune and attended the Court of St. James as Ambassador of the United States. In the midst of all that grandeur, did he ever mention that his forebears had been evicted from a small Irish farm because of Imperial British policies?
Jack, Bobby and Ted were the sons of that Ambassador. Say what you will about them, they assumed no airs or graces; nor did they forget their heritage or the responsibility they owed to the less fortunate.
President Kennedy may have fallen somewhat in stature of late, but he was sharp as a tack, welcomed dissenting opinions and was, above all, a consummate politician. You have only to read the transcripts of the Cuban Missile Crisis to appreciate the loss the world suffered at the death of this statesman in the making.
What a break for humanity that such a clear-thinking non-ideologue was at the helm and ready to defy General Curtis LeMay, and other trigger-happy nuclear warriors who might have incinerated Cuba.
And how fortunate that his pugnacious and dynamic brother, Bobby, was there to support him. Nepotism, it would appear, does work at times.
Bobby’s trajectory is proof that we can all become better than we are. Originally, a conservative counsel for the slimy red baiter Roy Cohen, he metamorphosed into a compassionate man who recognized that poverty and naked military-industrial aggression should not be endemic to the greatest country in the world.
He was driven to action, for the great-grandson of a famine survivor does not stand by while American children starve, nor when our air force indiscriminately rains down napalm bombs on cities and villages on the other side of the world.
Unfortunately, in a country bristling with more guns than sense, like his brother he paid the ultimate price.
I never met Teddy Kennedy but I was twice in the same room. On both occasions I was reminded of Wexford’s hurling heroes, the Rackards - Nicky, Bobby and Billy. Perhaps, it was the similar broad forehead and big build, or was it the ready smile and innate humanity?
I could easily picture the young Harvard receiver as a full-forward, like Nicky barreling through the vaunted Kilkenny back-line. That might have been Teddy’s destiny had his great-grandfather not sailed away on a coffin ship in 1848
The Rackards and Kennedys faced metaphorically similar obstacles. Kilkenny men have perennially been superior hurlers but, every so often, the stars align and Wexford fields a team blessed with skill, forbearance and tremendous courage. Such was the case in the successful Rackard era of the 1950’s.
Ted Kennedy possessed those qualities by the bucketful. He lost many battles in a bruising career, but he never gave up on his dream of universal health care for the American people.
Now that he’s gone, will we allow our resolve to be muddled by self-interest, ignorance and corporate greed?
Better tread carefully, for we could well be stamping out a spark of hope that ignited on a small farm back in Dunganstown in far darker days.