Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Era of Kennedy Is Over

I guess it officially happened last August, when Edward Kennedy lost his battle with brain cancer.

But, if there was any lingering doubt, Scott Brown's apparent victory over Martha Coakley in today's special election in Massachusetts to pick Kennedy's successor puts an exclamation point on it.

With the death of Ted Kennedy, the last of the Kennedy brothers, the Kennedy political dynasty, such as it was, was over. I remember hearing, when I was a small child, some of the adults in my world warning that Bobby Kennedy, and then Ted Kennedy, each would be elected to two terms as president, creating a "royal family" in American politics. As it turned out, of course, Bobby was killed when he sought the Democratic nomination, and Teddy's chances of being elected were forever dashed when Mary Jo Kopechne died at Chappaquiddick the following year.

Ted Kennedy Jr. could have sought his father's seat, even though he lives in another state. Apparently, because he owns property in Massachusetts, he would be eligible to serve as its senator, based on existing state law. His cousin, Bobby's son Joe, could have run for the seat but chose not to. Ted Kennedy's widow could have been a candidate but ruled it out.

But just the name by itself would not have been satisfactory. The real magic of the Kennedy name came from the brothers. None of the next generation of Kennedys — with the possible exception of the long dead John F. Kennedy Jr. — possessed the public appeal that might have been capable of capturing that lightning–in–a–bottle feeling that permeated Camelot.

Brown's victory may well be a perfect political storm. When the seat comes up for a full six–year term in 2012, Massachusetts voters may return to their roots. It is reasonable to expect that Barack Obama will be at the top of the ballot, seeking re–election, and if he remains personally popular, it is equally reasonable to expect that he will attract many of the same sporadic voters who gave him his huge margin in Massachusetts but may well have been unmotivated to participate in the special election, as some voting groups are apt to be in these midterm races.

But even if a Democrat unseats Brown in 2012 — and even if that Democrat is named Kennedy — it will never be the same. The next generation of the Kennedys is now in middle age, and the only one who ever showed the voter appeal of the previous generation was JFK Jr.

Unless one of his cousins emerges to pick up the dropped torch, the era of the Kennedys is over.


askcherlock said...

It is sad that Teddy's era has ended. You make an excellent point, though. In two years when the polls more accurately reflect Obama's accomplishments, this will just be backwash on the shore of politics.

David said...

Without that 60th vote in the Senate, how many accomplishments can Obama expect to have when he seeks a second term?

And this isn't the end, merely the beginning. If anything, a Republican triumph in Massachusetts only makes me more convinced that there will be more losses for the Democrats before the year is over.