“Destiny” and the Kennedy Women

Coverage of Ted Kennedy's death has been suffused with the narrative that he was a man held hostage by a sense of family destiny. In 1959, then-Senator JFK said, "Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, our young brother, Ted, would take over for him."

The Kennedy sisters and daughters simply weren't subjected to — our gifted with — these powerful expectations. When Eunice Kennedy Shriver died earlier this month, many obituaries noted that she was a natural politician in many ways — a fantastic organizer, networker, and spokeswoman. But because she was born female in 1921, she never seriously considered running for office.

Did these expectations shift over the generations? Maybe not so much. Just last year, during the brouhaha over Caroline Kennedy's interest in Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat, I often wondered if the outrage over nepotism would have been as acute if John Kennedy Jr. had lived and decided to toss his hat in the ring. JFK Jr., from an early age, seemed to embody little of his father's or uncles' driving ambition for political office. He was interested in theater and acting. He repeatedly failed the bar exam. He then launched a glossy magazine. Yet many members of his family and the Democratic establishment hoped he would someday run for president.

Of course, Robert Kennedy's oldest daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, served as lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003, later losing her gubernatorial bid. But on the whole, the Kennedy family women have been subjected not to political expectations, but to domestic and philanthropic ones. They put up, in the public eye, with their husbands' infidelities. They smiled as their fashion choices were put under the microscope. They got involved with charity. That was their destiny.

For further reading: The Kennedy Women by Laurence Learner

cross-posted at TAPPED

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