Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has been carrying the weight of his family’s legacy on his shoulders for decades, but this weight also may be what has made him the “lion of the Senate— and perhaps the most successful of the Kennedy brothers.
This idea is at the heart of Washington Post writer Vincent Bzdek’s new book, “The Kennedy Legacy: Jack, Bobby and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled,— which explores how each of the brothers — from Joe Kennedy Jr. to Ted Kennedy — passed on their beliefs and legislative dreams to the next.
It “was interesting how much each of the brothers took care of each other and really tried to carry on what the first brothers tried to do,— Bzdek said.
The book is broken into four sections, beginning with “Joe, Jack, Bobby and Teddy— and ending simply with “Ted.— Each section, with the exception of the final one, ends with the death of a brother, illustrating how truly marred by tragedy this family is. Bzdek uses these tragedies to show how each brother worked to carry on the other’s legacy.
“What struck me when I did my research is continuity and how the brothers took over for one another,— Bzdek said. His research included visits to the Kennedy library, interviews with members of the family, such as Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and interviews with those who have served as staff to the brothers.
The first passage of family power came in 1944 when Joe Jr. died. He was the eldest of the Kennedy children, and the family patriarch, Joe Sr., placed his political hopes and dreams on his son’s shoulders. But when Joe Jr. was killed in World War II, his father turned to the second eldest, John, to carry the family torch. The book follows the family as this tradition is carried on with each brother.
For example, Bobby visited South Africa in 1966 and spoke out against apartheid. At the time, black and white people were forbidden to touch, but Bobby marched through the streets shaking hands with blacks in protest. In 1984, Ted traveled to South Africa with TV crews from ABC and NBC news and retraced Bobby’s footsteps to help to raise awareness of the conditions in the country. He went to visit anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela but was not allowed to enter the jail. Instead, Ted left the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award against the prison fence.
“He really finished what Bobby started,— Bzdek said. “That’s what’s fascinating to me. You could see these guys as three individuals, but they’re really three parts of a larger whole. It’s one giant project that they’re all a part of.—
After reading the book, one can easily see that Ted is the brother who has accomplished most. This is no doubt because he has lived the longest, but it is also due to his perseverance and his fierce loyalty to his brothers’ beliefs.
“The biggest surprise for me was how much Ted Kennedy has accomplished as a legislator,— Bzdek said. “Ted had all these sorts of problems — Chappaquiddick, he was known as this playboy in the 70s and 80s, and for these drinking outings. He was very much thought of as the overlooked brother.—
The book outlines some of Ted Kennedy’s legislative achievements, including the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which did away with national-origin quotas, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides insurance for millions of children who would otherwise go without. Currently the senior Senator from Massachusetts is suffering from brain cancer, and while he still appears in the Senate from time to time, his involvement in day-to-day activities has been scaled back.
“We sort of have an ending coming up to the whole story of the Kennedys,— Bzdek said, referring to Ted’s cancer. “All the endings before have been sad, incomplete endings. Now I think Ted has really brought some resolution and is trying to bring this grand finale to what the Kennedys are all about.—