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Dynasties in Decline

September 22, 2002|JAKE TAPPER | Jake Tapper is a reporter and commentator in New York City.

NEW YORK — My fellow Americans, the news from Hyannis Port is not good.

In the last few years, the progeny of America's foremost political clan, the Kennedys, have fallen far short of their mythic, martyred forebears, Jack and Bobby.

Last year, Robert F. Kennedy's son Max canceled his plans to run for a Massachusetts congressional seat amid serious questions about his gray matter. In the last few weeks, two other members of the Kennedy clan who had entered the political arena were received as warmly as an imam walking into a rural Georgia Shoney's.

Andrew Cuomo, a Kennedy in-law--whose wife, Kerry, another RFK offspring, was a stumping staple--dropped out of the New York Democratic gubernatorial primary when it became clear he could expect a Riverdance-like stomping.

The toothy Mark Shriver (son of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver)--a Maryland state delegate looking for a House seat--stuck with his race until the end, but he might as well have not bothered; he lost to a state senator.

Moreover, while it's too early to count out Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (the oldest daughter of RFK) in her gubernatorial race, two polls released Tuesday show her lagging behind her opponent, GOP Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., in their race to run the overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Camelot is kaput.

Yes, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy remains a liberal pillar of the Senate. But what can you say about his son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.)? Well, he's never killed anyone.

Throw in the fatal 1984 drug overdose of RFK son David Kennedy, the 1991 rape trial of Jean Kennedy Smith son William Kennedy Smith (he was acquitted), the 1997 teenage baby-sitter scandal of the late Michael Kennedy (another RFK son) and the recent murder conviction of Michael Skakel (a cousin of RFK widow Ethel Skakel Kennedy) and it does suggest that the family DNA is not simply getting watered down: It's drowning.

That's not so unusual with dynasties, though--take Great Britain's House of Windsor. No doubt King Edward VII would look at great-great-grandson Prince Charles and wince. To say nothing of Chuck's Tiger Beat-ready--but hardly statesmanlike--sons, William and Henry. Or former clan member Fergie's Weight Watchers ads.

The main gloaters about the Kennedy brood's collective downfall are, not surprisingly, conservatives. "The Kennedy mystique--and the family's four-decade-long winning streak at the polls--is over," the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post proclaimed this month.

This schadenfreude from the right is frequently accompanied by a comparison of the Kennedys to another national political dynasty: la famille Bush.

It's true that the Bushes are riding high. Father George H.W. Bush's presidency is being assessed more positively in light of his successor's foibles. His son, George W., of course, has stellar national approval ratings. Down in Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush stands to be reelected this November.

George, George and Jeb: You can imagine a happy Thanksgiving table compared with what promises to be a Chivas-addled silence up in Cape Cod.

But hold on a sec! The comparison is not particularly fair. The president, after all, is from Generation III of the Bush dynasty, whereas these new Kennedys are Generation IV. There's a real difference. And as with Xeroxes, between the third and fourth generation lies disaster.

The first Bush in the chain was George H.W. Bush's father, W. and Jeb Bush's grandfather, Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush. The first Kennedys in the chain were John F. Kennedy's grandfathers--Rep. and Boston Mayor John F. Fitzgerald, a.k.a. "Honey Fitz," father of Rose; and one of his biggest rivals, a ward boss and the state senator from East Boston, Patrick J. Kennedy--father of Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., grandfather of JFK et al.

Thus the real comparison should be the current lineage of Kennedys with the up-and-coming Bush brood.

And that means those fabulous Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, who have had several run-ins with the law over booze and their underage possession of it. And Jeb's son Jebby, who in October 2000 was caught in flagrante delicto in a car in a Florida mall parking lot by a Tallahassee cop. Jeb's other salsa-sexy son, George P., was written up in a 1994, police report for showing up at 4 a.m. at the Miami home of a former girlfriend, breaking into her house, arguing with her father and later "causing damage to the lawn" with his Ford Explorer.

And lest we forget: Noelle Bush, Jeb's daughter, who is under investigation by Orlando, Fla., police on suspicion of having crack cocaine in her possession --while in court-ordered rehab. You know a political dynasty is in trouble when the younger generation's brightest light--in this case, fashion model and presidential niece Lauren Bush--is best known for how she looks in a bathing suit.

It's these Bushes with whom the current crop of Kennedys must be compared.

When these Bushes, B4, run for office--and God willing, they will--we'll see how well they do compared to K4.

By then, of course, we'll also be able to compare them with the third-generation political dynasty waiting breathlessly in the wings--Kristin, Sarah, Karenna and Albert III--the Gores.

God bless America. Good thing we left England and that monarchy thing long behind us.

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