Robert F. Kennedy Jr., far from being a black sheep, fits well within his family's long tradition of sucking.
Josh - you almost got a body count because I was laughing so hard reading this I had trouble breathing. Well done!
Liberal who grew up in Massachusetts here (Longmeadow, MA to be specific). Can't emphasize enough how much the Kennedy love is generational as opposed to Lib vs. Con. If you look at RFK jr.'s approval, I suspect of the Democrats who are currently supporting him are likely older Democrats (and outside of the Sacks/Musk ratf**ckery the Republicans who support him are probably older too).
Given where I grew up and where I went to school (government major at William & Mary, so had classes and was friends with a lot of political nerds who were decidedly left of center), you would think there would be a lot of Kennedy love. I'm proud to say nope! I'd say among my group of friends (again mostly a left of center bunch), if you were to ask who the most overrated President is, I suspect the answer will to a person be JFK*.
Two anecdotes to serve my point. Do you remember the movie Chappaquidick? I actually thought it was quite good. But I remember the directors had an interview I listened to where they remarked upon that generational divide. I'm not sure if it was whether they were talking about speaking to older producers or just general public. But they said they were baffled by the number of older people trying to defend Ted Kennedy's actions***. You don't have to buy in the right-wing conspiracy theories to believe a) Ted did something untoward that night even if it wasn't murder and should have resulted in the end of his political career b) the Kennedy name and specifically his dad is what kept him out of further trouble**.
Second, see the movie JFK. Oliver Stone is (famously) a pretty left-wing person and yet of all the most ludicrous things he tried to argue in the movie, the idea that JFK was this superhero who was going to keep us out of Vietnam is perhaps the most ludicrous (that's saying something). The man was basically fully on board with a military coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem. This is the guy who was going to keep us out of the conflict? Puh-leeze!
* You actually left out some stuff! And maybe some of the most egregious. Namely, that there is a pretty credible accusation that JFK pimped a 19 year old intern to aides and tried to pimp her to perform sexual acts with Ted Kennedy. https://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/mimi-and-the-president
** I loved the fact that they made the "big bad" in the last season of Peaky Blinders Jack Kennedy. Of course, in the show he's named "Jack Nelson" because there's no way the Kennedy clan would be on board with a show that made Jack Kennedy out to be the mob boss of Boston. But to me it makes it even better as there's no need to tiptoe around family sensibilities and instead the writers had free reign to just let the Jack Kennedy character just essentially be 1930s classic gangster. Two side notes on this. The show went as far as to directly quote a real letter Kennedy wrote to FDR to basically highlight "hey we may not fully know the extent of Kennedy's right-wing sympathies and mob connections, but we know there is something there". Last and most important side note. WATCH PEAKY BLINDERS! Loved this show.
***I will semi defend Ted Kennedy as a senator in that he really was quite influential in getting a lot of progressive policy passed that I think has done an enormous amount of good for this country and policy that may not have passed without him. Of course, he has a key role to play in US not getting some version of universal health care, a role that he acknowledged and regretted in later years.
I do not think this article quite eclipses "Gavin Newsom is gross and embarrassing" as my favorite Barro article ever--as someone still barely under the age of 40, I simply don't give a shit about this Kennedy or that Kennedy or any Kennedy, and I find it bizarre and inscrutable that anyone does.
But it is in contention.
I think there's a not entirely crazy liberal nostalgia for Bobby Sr. There's the idea that if he hadn't been killed, he would have been nominated, beaten Nixon, and bent the arc of history leftward. I think the decline of liberalism had already started by 1968 and was driven by the rise in crime and urban poverty in the 1960s, not something he could have reversed. To liberals who see history in terms of stories about Great Men however, his assassination was the great horrible crux of the era, arguably more important than his brother's assassination.
Not one word of this is wrong.
However, I will say that I have multiple friends who were GOP-side Senate staffers in the '00s, and to a person, they all speak highly of Senator Ted Kennedy as collegial, generous, and a hard-working legislator. And just yesterday, I heard a long-serving-but-low-profile former GOP Representative brought up T. Kennedy as an example of bipartisanship and generousity.
The family is awful, but one of them was a solid statesman for his last 20 years.
I will give JFK credit for getting through the Cuban Missile Crisis. That was an intense and potentially disastrous situation. You can argue about how much credit he personally deserves but at the end of the day it resolved.
Political parties have a hard time with introspection. This is obviously a huge problem with the Republicans right now but the Democratic party has been far from immune. Obama strongly considered appointing RFK Jr. as his head of the Environmental Protection Agency and if you look at the old articles, the biggest hang-up was his previous admissions of using cocaine. Not that he was an election denying conspiracy theorist, not that he maintains the CIA killed his dad despite the fact that Sirhan Sirhan has admitted and apologized to RFK Jr., not any of the crazy policy positions he espoused. Fucking cocaine use. RFK Jr. is getting his current treatment because he is suddenly inconvenient to the Democratic party when he should have been kicked to the curb years ago.
While I don't disagree with anything in your (as usual) excellent article, I (sort of) take issue with this:
"How would you have reacted if Donald Trump had named a member of his immediate family to the cabinet?"
Well, I would say he kind of did for several of his immediate family members, just not formally...
Chappaquiddick was obviously a huge moral failing in a personal sense, but the thing that bothers me about Ted Kennedy as a public figure is his challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Granted, all of this happened before I was born and I have the benefit of looking at everything in retrospect. But it seems as though Carter, whatever else you want to say about him, could grasp that the climate was moving away from New Deal/Great Society-style liberalism and was trying to adapt to that, whereas Kennedy was just delivering the old time religion. Then he indulges in petty silliness like refusing to raise arms with Carter at the convention. Carter had so much going against him in 1980 that he probably would have lost even if Kennedy hadn't challenged him, but everything Kennedy did put him in a far worse position, and if Carter had lost by a smaller margin than he did in real life, a handful of Democratic senators probably could have squeaked by and been reelected instead of a bunch of them losing.
There’s a Kennedy-adjacent murder that you didn’t mention. Two weeks after the Warren Commission report was released, Mary Pinchot Meyer (who had a longtime affair with JFK) was murdered execution style in Washington. Shortly after her murder, a high-ranking CIA official broke into her apartment to steal her diary! No one was ever convicted of the murder.
This was a phenomenal read on a Friday afternoon.
"Did I mention that RFK Jr.’s cousin, Patrick, while he was serving as a congressman, crashed his Ford Mustang into a barrier near the Capitol at 2:45am while under the influence of prescription drugs and probably also alcohol? He told police he was late for a vote. Again, do not let these people drive you anywhere."
As I recall, Patrick Kennedy's case was one of the first media-reported instances of Ambien-induced "sleep driving." I don't think you can necessarily chalk this one incident up to substance abuse.
Seriously, very funny. Long-time lefty Democrat here who has always found it grotesque that so many liberal Democrats/feminists have repeatedly excused the negligent, selfish, stupid, dishonest, often criminal behavior of the Kennedys, especially in regard to their many female victims. And yeah, do not get in the car (or plane), they clearly think - despite repeated evidence to the contrary, that even the normal rules of physics do not apply to them.
This might be my favorite thing you've ever written, Josh. As someone else who is mystified by the enduring love of the Kennedys, today's post speaks to my soul.
I used to be astonished and ashamed that Republicans fell for the cult of Trump until I remembered for two generations the Morning Joe left was salivating for the probity, character and grace under pressure exhibited by the Chappaquiddick Kid.
And that dinner party exchange you describe reminded me of David Frum blasting his opposition on Left, Right and Center back when you were moderating.
This is on par with the Gavin Newsom takedown, and is Barro prose at its best. It was also a self-diagnosing read as I found myself guilty of subscribing to almost single piece of Kennedy lore that is, upon any level of inspection, rooted in nothing more than glamorous nostalgia of a time I wasn't even alive in.
This is my favorite thing you have ever written. I wish every Trump fan would read the two paragraphs towards the bottom about JFK and take a long hard look in the mirror...