The Bluest State has never felt so blue. Fifty years ago, Massachusetts had just helped elect its junior senator to the presidency. Two years into his presidency, John F. Kennedy enjoyed dealing with another native son, Boston pol John McCormack, as Speaker of the House. The political power of the tiny state in the country’s eastern extremity seemed boundless.
Today, the Bay State stands poised to lose yet another congressional seat—its fifth in as many decades. Massachusetts looks into the funhouse mirror and sees California or New York; reality reflects the electoral power of Tennessee or Indiana. What a difference a half-century makes.
The Royal Family of Massachusetts who rode the state’s rise has crashed with its decline. Kennedy political clout, like that of their home base, has seen better days.
Earlier this month, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, a Boston-based shrine to the late senator, lost out on $8.5 million in requested earmarks. Sensing the shift in political winds, Senator John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey had already scaled down the earmark from an original request of $30 million. Though the late Senator was not known as a friend of the Department of Defense during his life, the Department of Defense has been a friend of the Senator following his death. Roughly half of the $38 million already allocated by Congress to fund the Temple of Ted has been siphoned from the defense budget. Why fund two wars when there’s another monument to the Kennedys to build?
Next week will mark the first time since John F. Kennedy left the Senate to become president that a Kennedy has not sat in Congress. The Boston Globe, the local booster paper for the dynasty, marked the occasion with a “Patrick Kennedy through the Years” pictorial. Its sister publication, The New York Times, ran a mostly fawning front-page piece on the retirement of Ted Kennedy’s youngest son, whose mental illness and drug abuse overshadowed legislative accomplishment.
“This is a family that once had the presidency and two Senate seats, and they’re now down to the mayor of Santa Monica,” Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution told the Gray Lady. “It’s a pretty dramatic fall, and it’s symbolic of the decline of liberalism.” The article also pointed out that the Kennedy father-son duo in the 111th Congress is being replaced in the 112th Congress by Tea Party favorites Ron and Rand Paul. If Scott Brown’s capture of the “Kennedy seat” wasn’t a sign of the times, then certainly the Pauls becoming the new Kennedys is.
To add injury to insult, Splash, late Senator Ted Kennedy’s pooch, passed away at thirteen (an elderly 68 in dog years) last week.
Things have gotten so bad for the Kennedys that they’re outsourcing the family business to in-laws. Vicki Kennedy, the Bayou State-bride of late Senator, is the Great Slight Hope of Massachusetts Democrats to regain the state’s only federal office held by a Republican. Entering Boston on Interstate 93, motorists are greeted with a city-funded billboard featuring Vicki Kennedy. The low-key widow’s recent high-profile appearances have left Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi to observe: “Vicki Kennedy is moving and shaking all over town. So, even though she insists she isn’t interested in running for the US Senate, her name comes up every time Massachusetts Democrats think about trying to beat Republican Senator Scott Brown in 2012.”
The bad December put an exclamation point not only on a bad 2010, but on a poor few decades for the Kennedys. After Chappaquiddick, the South Dakota heroin bust, and West Palm Beach’s Good Friday bacchanalia, the name just doesn’t conjure the magic it once did. The decadence, debauchery, and decline of the Kennedys remind one of The Royal Tenenbaums. Once proclaimed a “family of geniuses,” the cinematic Tenenbaums fall hard from the precipice as playwright phenoms, tennis prodigies, and teenage millionaires. Narrator Alec Baldwin informs, “Virtually all memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.” The lines could have been written for the late boy senator and the departing boy congressman.
Mirroring the Kennedy decay is that of Massachusetts. Once a prime destination point for immigrants seeking a better life (like the Kennedy ancestors), the Bay State is now a place where many leave but few go. Even the Kennedys have followed these trends, as family members consider future runs for high office in Connecticut, Illinois, and points beyond. Massachusetts has taxed and regulated itself out of nearly half of its House seats over the course of the last century. The public-sector unions aren’t complaining. And neither are Democrats, who hold all statewide and federal offices save for Brown’s, and have held both houses of the state legislature for more than a half-century. Presiding over a weakening state strangely has its benefits.
The final month of 2010 has been a December to remember for aficionados of Kennedyana. Not only did the U.S. Census subtract a member from the congressional delegation of the onetime Kingdom of Kennedy, but Camelot also lost its last federal office.
Being a Kennedy, like being Massachusetts, just isn’t what it used to be.