The Kennedy Clan: Camelot’s Promise & Peril

The Kennedy Clan: Camelot’s Promise & Peril

    Posted in : Opinion:
  • On : Sep 14, 2009

The Kennedy Clan: Camelot’s Promise & Peril

What some are calling “the end of Camelot,” calls for added reflections not just on the person of Edward Kennedy, but on the Kennedy Clan’s dynastic run, and implications for the future of American life & politics.

French novelist Honore de Balzac is quoted, perhaps apocryphally, as having said that behind every great fortune lies a great crime.  Balzac’s statement came at a time when possibly it was a universal truth.  Early great fortunes were made by those linked closely with royalty, and thus favored by royal charter and gift.  Modern life has created private entrepreneurs whose fortunes clearly are not derived from crime–think Apple Computer titan Steven Jobs.

Joseph P. Kennedy Senior exemplified Balzac’s dictum.  The twin sources of his fortune were Prohibition-era bootlegging and Wall Street stock manipulation–FDR famously appointed the Kennedy patriarch to chair the newly-formed Securities & Exchange Commission because, it is rumored, he wanted a crook who knew how to catch other crooks in the same racket.  Later appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Joe Sr. became an overt Nazi sympathizer.  According to a widely believed and likely true story, Joseph Kennedy Sr. via Frank Sinatra, enlisted the Mafia to fix the 1960 Illinois election to secure his second son, JFK, the Presidency in 1960.  Ironically, the Kennedy Clan coolly jettisoned Sinatra due to his mob connections.

The Kennedy Clan made vast charitable contributions, amplifying their wealth with the leverage given equally vast political power.  They combined, as it were, the benevolent charity of John Beresford Tipton of “The Millionaire” late-1950s TV series, with the less benevolent charity of Godfather Don Vito Corleone.  Tipton gave anticipating gratitude; Don Vito demanded absolute loyalty in return.  If a recipient crossed John Beresford Tipton his benefactor would be disappointed; crossing the Kennedy Clan entailed risking more than disappointment.  Thus the Kopechne family, parents of Mary Jo Kopechne the former campaign worker who died on Chappaquiddick Island, was silenced in return for accepting a monetary payment.

The many ways in which the Kennedy Clan wielded power brings to mind the famous aphorism of the English statesman Lord Acton, in its most commonly quoted form: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  To believe that such imperial power can be wielded solely for the public good is the myth that lies at the heart of Camelot–the myth of the virtuous knight who slays dragons and saves the kingdom, to rule his subjects benevolently and give happiness to all ever after.

Put simply, no fallible human being can be trusted with the vast power of Camelot–its patriarch or his descendants.  It is worth noting that the Queen of Camelot, Jacqueline Kennedy, kept her children as far away as possible from Camelot in her widow years.

John C. Wohlstetter is the founder of the issues blog “Letter From The Capitol,” the author of “The Long War Ahead and the Short War Upon Us,” and a senior fellow at Discovery Institute.  John’s articles and commentary can be followed on Twitter: JohnWohlstetter

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