The Last Brother

The death of Senator Ted Kennedy marks the death of the last of four brothers who all died trying to save their country from wars waged on innocents by the always-imperial and conquering Right.  The first, Joe, was fighting fascism in Europe when he was killed at age 29, John (temporarily) saved us from Richard Nixon and his McCarthyite authoritarianism, only to be shot dead in 1963, Bobby was gunned down trying to save us from Vietnam, and of course, Nixon again.  In his long career, Teddy saved us from myriad evils, not the least of which was Robert Bork’s ascension to the Supreme Court, and unlike his brothers lived to serve America in the spirit of what I could only call faith, for almost fifty years.  There was something special about these men, despite their flaws borne of wealth, fame, and entitlement; they dedicated their lives and went to their deaths defending the defenseless, helping the helpless, speaking for the silenced, and living out the life that new testament Christianity teaches us to live.  The least of my brothers, and all that.  All those years of Catholic Mass paid off for them, and the rest of us, as it did for me, despite my atheism from about age 8 on.  No wonder all the right wants to talk about is Chappaquiddick, the reflection cast upon them by these great, moral, Christian men is otherwise so woundingly unflattering to them and their plainly inferior place in history.

This explains, to my mind, what made the Kennedys Nixon’s mortal enemies; in every battle, they played Bugs Bunny to his Elmer Fudd, Jesus to his Judas. His poker winnings in the back lines were no match for JFK’s real heroism on PT 109, yet while JFK could downplay his record, Nixon had to inflate his.   As a result, Nixon’s self-destructive Kennedy Derangement Syndrome played a pivotal role in his political downfall, as he obsessively fumed about their pedigree, education, and seeming untouchability politically.  When Jack Kennedy said that Nixon had “no class,” Tricky Dick knew all too well he was right, and spent the rest of his life seething; envying and fearing the Kennedy magic in equal measure.  Nixon also lavishly promoted, investigated, and repeated ad nauseam the wildest theories on the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, and just like his Southern Strategy, it became an evergreen club for the right to bash the man, not his ideas, since they were utterly unequipped to do that.  As Marc Antony warned us in his funeral oration, the evil men do lives long after the good is interred with their bones, and Nixon is a sobering reminder of how true that is.  Worse, in the age of Glenn Beck and Fox News, even those theories have conveniently been embellished just a little.  A Righty caller on Ed Schultz’s radio show today confidently asserted that Kopechne was Kennedy’s mistress, bearing his unborn child, and that’s why he had to kill her.  Nice way to bring the Randall Terry crowd into the fold for a new generation of wingnuts, but honestly.  The great Chicago columnist Mike Royko once denounced the “grave dancers,” who inappropriately early and loudly denounced the flaws of the freshly, but nonetheless deserving, dead, falling over themselves to toss the first stone at the “sinner” every time.  Such people invariably call themselves Christians, natch.

But that reaction is in itself revealing: none of the leaders of the modern right can make any such claim to the service of their country, militarily and politically, nor could they make any such claims of moral superiority, much less selflessness, before giants like the Kennedys, who lived their lives in service of the least among us.  The Kennedys were big, and they are small, in every sense of the word, and it drives them just as crazy in death as in life.

They don’t have any heroes to lose.


  1. Steven Rockford says:

    Amen Hag. You’ve presented an admirable tribute. Ted Kennedy was a true American hero. May he rest in peace.

  2. Karen M says:

    The only one to accumulate much in the way of gray hair.

    That entire generation of activist and political Kennedys is gone now. First Eunice and now Ted… so close together. That’s it. Somehow, the spouses who are still living don’t carry quite the same political capital.

    It really does feel like the death of an age.

    • cocktailhag says:

      You’re right; and not in a good way. If I tried to count Senate liberals who could match Kennedy on one hand, I’d have to have a couple of fingers amputated.

      • Karen M says:

        I was with a friend last night, talking for hours, some of it about politics… and my REAL disappointment with Obama, and I had to say that with Kennedy dying, I couldn’t think of anyone left in Congress who might have any kind of liberal influence on the prez.

        There may be a few liberals or progressives left, but I don’t think they have much influence with him…. certainly not as much as the Blue Dogs, and Lieberman, and Grassley, et al.

        • cocktailhag says:

          It’s sad. Even as the country’s citizens grow more liberal, its politicians keep trending right, obsessively tending a fallow field of old, white rage. Could Bernie Sanders or Russ Feingold assume Kennedy’s place? I doubt it.

          • Karen M says:

            I don’t think so, either, and it’s not just because they don’t have a dynasty to stand on. There’s something else missing. Perhaps it’s the connection to the 60′s.

    • Karen M says:

      I was wrong! There is one of that generation still surviving, Ted’s older sister, Jean Kennedy Smith.

      My apologies!

  3. sysprog says:

    The hand that rocks the cradle – - well, that may have been a nanny’s hand at first, but later, according to Ted Kennedy’s biographer, Ted and his siblings got their religion from Rose Fitgerald Kennedy.

    I once asked him why someone as well off as him was so interested in the poor and the sick, and he said it was his mother’s Catholic teaching: the Sermon on the Mount and the passage from Luke that to those who much is given, much is expected.
    - – Adam Clymer

    Rose Kennedy taught her children to remember Luke 12:48, which says,

    For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

    • cocktailhag says:

      It seemed to me axiomatic that that was where the Kennedy’s noblesse oblige came from, having grown up in the Catholic church long before the pro-lifers and homophobes took over. I think both parents, Rose out of her own religious teachings, and Joe out of guilt, contributed.

  4. Jim White says:

    Sadly, it’s probably just as well that Ted passed now. It appeared that he had been trying to pass the mantle of progressive leadership to Obama. Having to watch Obama fail so miserably at demonstrating progressive values for a couple more years likely would have driven him insane.

    Ted grew into a leadership position that was never intended for him, but the lesson that much would be expected never left, and when he was the last one who could carry the torch, he did so with admirable style and grace. I just don’t see how our times could produce another of his value to humanity.

    • cocktailhag says:

      …And how truly sad it is that that time has passed. Today I was painting, and listening to Kennedy’s speeches, and one of the tile guys came up to ask me something and I was visibly teared up. Maybe he thought it was the fumes.

  5. harpie says:

    Beautifully written, Hag.
    It does feel like the passing of an age.

  6. timothy3 says:

    Nicely written, CH. I particularly agree with your assertion that the GOPers are in a permanent state of pissed-off-ed-ness because they’re absent anyone worthwhile who might be remembered fondly.
    These destructive creeps, the utter evil, immorality and indecency they spout on a daily basis, wow, I just don’t know where that comes from.
    My parents (mother especially) was a very strict disciplinarian, very strict (the kind of strict that’d bring social workers to your home in this day and age) and, ala Pedinska (I think ) over at UT, my mother did indeed make us select the willow branch with which she’d beat us.
    Now, I tell you this–which is to say, here’s the relevance to me–because where the people on the right get their lust for oppression cannot be explained merely on the basis of how they were raised.
    This will mystify me ’til the day I die.

    • cocktailhag says:

      It is kind of hard to explain, unless you think about the fact that like their hero O’Reilly, they became abusive under the tutelage of abusive fathers, and they’ll never let go.

    • Meremark says:

      Not all brains are born the same. Literally, anatomically, an un-ease (not to say ‘disease’) of brain neurons is where the fear-filled fundamentalism starts.

      Then the early home environment relieves it, one hopes, or reinforces it: one hates.

      And here’s where this could get to — I say let’s go there: The brain scan technology nowadays, which can ‘picture’ a person’s thinking, can single out the bent-brain hater ones. So, for radio announcer jobs, besides the urinalysis for meth- and oxycontin-whacks, add a brain scan ‘test’ that applicants must ‘pass’ as normal. In order to get licensed.

  7. Meremark says:

    Well, y’know, the way I see it Nixon didn’t even have the class to play the game. Nevermind him, and others of his lowly ilk, (Ronnie Raygun, for example).

    Rather, the ones who have been obsessed, first to make up the myth that the Kennedy’s thought themselves and were a ‘family dynasty,’ and second to ‘defeat’ the imaginary ‘family’ strawman — generation by generation, from Joseph’s era to his sons’ era to his grandsons’ era, and third to therefor establish themSELVES as Number One dynastic family of America … is the Bushes.

    Prescott envious and hating Joe.
    Poppy in the CIA and on the scene that day in Dallas.
    Poopy-pants in office, stonewalling FBI inquest, when John Jr.’s plane got EMP’d coming in for landing and all died.

    Then, Hag, over to you: Those evils shall be the Bushes own undoing in eternal infamy. Die writhing deaths, blackhearted bastards!

    - -

    I never really bought into the idea that the Kennedy’s served up any ‘family dynasty’ imagery. Perhaps they did, and I didn’t pay much attention, (although I lived in Massachusetts many years, and even voted for the name a few times). And it always sort of bothered me whenever some media maven laid that trip on “Kennedy’s.”

    So, since about 1972 +/- I’ve been ‘bothered’ by a verse in a song that got a bunch of airplay then.

    ‘Nostradamus,’ by Al Stewart

    In the new lands of America
    three brothers now shall come to power
    Two alone are born to rule
    but all must die before their hour

    It was at the time I lived in Boston, where there were (unlike Portland) bookstores with books and teachers with classrooms and various ways to learn how to ‘do’ (the proper verb is ‘erect’) astrology charts. My innate interest got practical traction then. And, among other things, I got me a book of all of Nostradamus’s ‘verses,’ and read it cover to cover in its provencal (olde) French, and so can report that Nostradamus did NOT publish the words Al Stewart puts in his mouth, (about “three brothers in the new lands of America.” Howver, Nostradamus, 1555, DOES mention “western new lands” and he calls that WUSA, which impresses me as a fairly accurate ‘prediction.’ In most other regards — 99.90 percent — all the stuff a bunch of books say Nostradamus said is total false and fail: Nostradamus NEVER said that crap. In an astrology perspective, I hardly see where Nostradamus predicted anything beyond 40 years (approx.) in ‘his’ future — that is to say, I hardly see any ‘predictions’ of the 1600s, and nothing later than that.)

    Still, it’s fun to fancy-fy and, so, in the very next song verse after “3 brothers,” is the following. Which might, or not, actually appear in Nostradamus’s books — I don’t recall. Now let me throw caution, prudence, and probably fate to the wind, and interpret for us (in this next) that “two great men” is US and UK, while “eastern lands” is China, (duh), and the verse refers to present day, 1945 – 2000something.

    Two great men yet brothers not
    make the north united stand
    Its power be seen to grow,
    and fear possess the eastern lands

    Perhaps much of the enjoyment of the music is hearing the melodic of it in mind, triggered by reading the lyrics. This song is in a minor key or something, and somehow raises a funereal or etheral note, a chill up my spine, and the hairs on the back of my neck. All sing together now: Man. Man. Your time is sand. Your ways are leaves upon the sea.

    I am the eyes of Nostradamus, all your ways are known to me

  8. I’ve never been a fan of the Kennedys; much less than meets the eye was always my take. Leaving aside the shady beginnings, the overweening dynastic ambition and its accompanying cruelty to their offspring, the best you could say of them is that they were possessed of a certain rustic noblesse oblige. When you look at them with your eyes open, though, you’d have to conclude that the Rockefellers were more polished, and even Andrew Carnegie and his libraries arguably did more good.

    Still, after 50 years or so to meditate on his family’s failings and his own misfortunes, I’d say that Teddy turned out to be the best of the lot. That’s hardly a blanket endorsement, though. A democracy unpolluted by raw demagoguery and a weeakness of will on the part of most of its citizens, should have been able to do a whole lot better.

    • heru-ur says:


      With every post you are making it harder to disagree with you. You are killing me here!

      I do agree with your assessment, except I might argue that a fully mature democracy can not do any better.

      • No doubt if we worked at it, we could find much to disagree about, but why bother? It’s a big world, with an endless number of conceptual frameworks to go around.

        If I may, this is why I have much more respect for, and confidence in democracy than you seem to have. Corruptibility is an essential element of human nature, and as such, will surface eventually in any system of human governance. The great advantage of democracy, it seems to me, is that even in its most corrupted forms there are many contending voices. Bad things may happen to a person who reads many books, but bad things are bound to happen to a person who reads only one.

        • heru-ur says:

          Oddly, we both see human nature the same. We see humans as corruptible and prone to error, as anyone paying attention would have to do. The difference is then — what does that mean for the idea of humans organizing themselves into societies?

          As you know, no doubt, I am a complete anarchist for many reasons, both moral and practical. But, you might well ask, what if we must have a government? If we must have a government then I side with the monarchists.

          This is an essay:

          It is on the weakness of democracy and it is brutally frank. Written almost a decade ago, before the Bush/Obama madness, I think it covers my thoughts on the issue except that I would write it much softer and not so hash. But, it is a good read whenever you are bored with your normal routine.

          By the way, the crack about disagreements was a weak attempt at humor. I guess I proved your point from a while ago. :-)

    • cocktailhag says:

      The Kennedys only look so good compared to what came after. Kind of like “mid-century Modern.”

      • Hmm…. I posted a reply to this — twice, unfortunately — before I figured out that because it had two links in it, it might have been held for moderation. If that’s the case, and you’re inclined to resurrect it, Hag dear, please use the second version — it links to larger versions of the pictures.

  9. dirigo says:

    Don’t forget the Bushes are essentially New England blue-blood Wasps, with G.H.W. Bush born in Milton, Mass., just south of Boston, and G.W. born in New Haven, when G.H.W. was at Yale.

    The Kennedys were part of the Irish brawler class who took power in Boston early in the 20th century, challenging the Wasps, and their sense of entitlement, year after year, in precinct after precinct, eventually becoming – by entry to Harvard and the other High Wasp elite institutions of New England – like the people they overthrew. Lace curtains and all that.

    As Tip O’Neill said: “All politics is local,” and Boston has always served up a savory political stew.

    I don’t know if any of it is good or not (yet, there’s stuff like the Big Dig); but as a Boston kid, I grew up watching it, where I lived (I’ve never been a dues paying member of either tribe; but I do love the Sox).

    Anyway, it was always raw, retail politics. Often, it was simply about revenge, an ancient political pastime in Beantown, which is not unlike the warp and woof of the Brits and the Irish in Northern Ireland. Lots of turf and parades on sacred holidays.

    Whatever the good or bad of this in Boston, the Kennedys drew part of their “mystique” from it and sold it to the nation. And by the way, anyone who doesn’t think the Kennedys were marketed (very shrewdly) needs a refresher in Poly-Sci 101. Can you sing “Camelot”?

    Thursday’s Boston Globe, in the first line of its lead editorial on Ted Kennedy’s death, said he was “not a great man,” citing his many foibles and failures, notably the mysterious accident at Chappaquiddick Bridge in Nantucket in 1969, an accident which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne (the Globe, somewhat imperiously, does not name the woman in this editorial, as if she’s been airbrushed out of the picture). Attempting to frame what Kennedy meant to the people of Massachusetts, the Globe, citing his daunting (and admirable) national legislative achievements, also said, somewhat jarringly (at least to me), that he developed, after his second marriage, a “ripening paternal relationship with the Commonwealth and its citizens.”

    That last reference clangs a bit; and as a native, I’ve never liked to think of any state politician in Massachusetts, including Barney Frank, as having the sense that he’s my “dad,” or cultivating a kind of popery image while in office.

    But, it’s part of the deal in the Great Bay State, I guess. The pols never stop talking to you and they’re hogs for air time.

    I suppose there’s an old, wrinkled, and less well known vicar who speaks for the Bushes, on retainer somewhere in Boston, just waiting to issue a statement for the 11 o’clock news. The vicar is not lost. He just hasn’t been found.

    But I can’t be sure of that at the moment.

    Ted Kennedy: RIP.

    • Meremark says:

      Let’s say I feel addressed as “anyone who doesn’t think the Kennedys were marketed (very shrewdly) needs a refresher in Poly-Sci 101. Can you sing “Camelot”?

      I certainly think the Kennedys were marketed, quite shrewd marketing in certain interests. Only, not in the Kennedy’s interests. Moreover, the marketing NOT done by the Kennedy’s.

      That is, the Kennedy’s not the instigators of ‘the marketing,’ not the originators. But then, when they saw it could work for them, or ways to make it work for them, then, yeah, I think they ‘got with the program.’

      I think and say the media itself, TV’s own narcissism, was ‘the hand that rocked the cradle.’ Featuring the model ‘good looks’ of JFK served TV’s purpose — thrall, and gaze — much sooner than it served JFK’s purpose — vote-getting by integrity.

      Then, of course, as TV became politics, (supplanting politics as politics), or, that is, as political image deposed political substance, real politick, ‘good looking’ beneficiaries such as the Kennedy’s quickly ‘came about to the wind,’ endorsed ‘imagery’ as early adopters, and played it to the hilt — I agree.

      Just, I doubt they themselves thought of going that ‘marketing’ way in the first place.

      (Postscript — no, in fact I cannot sing “Camelot.”)

    • dirigo says:

      A footnote on coverage of the Chappaquiddick incident …

  10. Karen M says:

    Here’s a link to the official Twitter page covering current news about Kennedy, services, who is sitting vigil, etc.