by | May 11, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

America loves slow motion. Take some film footage, add stirring music, maybe a close-up, a smile or a wave. It’s the way we see our heroes.

It’s the way we’ve always seen the Kennedys. There’s John in slow motion, tossing a football to his kids, or tipping his hand to a crowd. There’s Robert in slow motion, lifting his kids on a beach, pushing his hair out of his eyes.

It’s effective imagery. It has cast the Kennedys as America’s “royal family.”

And it’s all a lie.

And it’s time we stopped falling for it.

This month, for the umpteenth time, a Kennedy is behaving like a spoiled and unscrupulous monster. Michael Kennedy, Robert’s sixth son, has been accused of sleeping with his children’s baby-sitter since she was 14 years old. He reportedly conducted this affair in his house, while married — but then, why should that surprise us? This is a great Kennedy tradition, going all the way back to Joe Sr., the patriarch of this power-and-pleasure-driven clan, who used to gleefully parade his mistress, Gloria Swanson, past his wife, Rose.

Of course, the baby-sitter incident has Kennedy insiders upset. Not because it’s indecent or appalling, but because it might hurt their political fortunes. You see, Michael had been campaign manager for his congressman brother, Joe II, who is planning to run for governor of Massachusetts.

That’s right. I said governor. Joe II is the guy who once went for a joyride in a jeep on Nantucket Island and left a young woman paralyzed. He’s the guy who dumped his wife of 12 years, left her with no alimony, and then, despite their children, asked the church to annul the marriage — make like it never existed — after he married a younger aide from his office. This, too, is a Kennedy tradition; all is forgiven as long as you get the church to make it so.

And this guy wants to be governor?

Who are these people? What boat did they sail over that somehow bestowed them with privilege to abuse power — while feeling entitled to lead us?

Who are these people?

Leading by example?

It is time we put them in their place, which is off the stage, away from the good light they have been deceitfully enjoying for so long.

I do not mean to demean every Kennedy on Earth. Certainly some of the family are innocent. And many of the women have been victims of their husbands’ and brothers’ power-lust.

But those Kennedy men who claim to lead us? I ask a simple question: What ever happened to leading by example?

Are we supposed to follow someone like this Joe II, who seeks to erase a marriage for his own political gain? Are we supposed to follow Ted, an admitted drunk who divorced one woman, left another dead in Chappaquiddick, and went carousing with his nephew the night the latter was accused of raping a woman at the Kennedy estate?

Were we supposed to follow Jack, whose affairs in the White House are now well-known, or Bobby, who allegedly bedded Marilyn Monroe?

Who are these people? There have been better presidents, better senators. And for all the alleged rapes, drunken-driving arrests, car-crash victims — for the time Joe Sr. had his own daughter lobotomized, had her brain carved away, because he was afraid she’d soil the family name — for all these blemishes, do you ever see a Kennedy go to jail?

Do they ever pay for a crime, or truly own up to their responsibilities?

Who are these people?

Re-examining the legacy

America was built on the idea that all men are created equal. Our ancestors came here to escape aristocracy.

So why do historians still refer to JFK’s presidency as Camelot? Come on. All the things this country stands for, the Kennedys have never been about. Hard work? Joe made his biggest money illegally. Humility? They were raised to think they were above us all. Parenthood? Fidelity? Are you kidding?

Enough with these people. We should clean our hands of the whole lot. And if guys like Ted, Joe II and Michael don’t want to be held to our standards, fine, hold them up to their own. What an embarrassing legacy. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

No more slow motion. No more stirring music. It’s one thing to be fooled. It’s another to keep kidding yourself. Once upon a time, it was un-American to criticize the Kennedys.

Today, considering their behavior, it’s pretty un-American to admire them.

Mitch Albom’s interview with Dennis Rodman and his ex-wife, Annie, will be on Monday, 4-6 p.m., on “Albom In The Afternoon” on WJR-AM, 760.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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