The Kennedy Curse

Kennedy collage

The Kennedy Curse
| published July 2, 2014 |

By Earl Perkins
Thursday Review associate editor

This penetrating expose has a little of everything: a family of daredevils with numerous members dying before their time; the world's biggest stars; the nation's greatest “legitimate” bootlegger; several family members who caused the death of others; bickering, backbiting and senseless sibling rivalries; constant drinking and excessive drug use; illicit sex in the White House; clinical depression; tons of personal tragedies and assassinations; a lobotomy and an accused rapist; and, most interestingly, an nation who deified the family despite the cursed track record.

Edward Klein penned a masterpiece when he wrote The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family For 150 Years. Name the most fantastic or bizarre story you can dream up, and it's probably in there somewhere. But we discover what happens when a sense of omnipotence meets reality. Hubris is such an ugly word, but it should be on this family's crest.

You know what direction the tale is headed when you open the cover and read the names of the chapters: Scourge, Affliction, Tribulation, Visitation. And of course, Klein includes an epilogue, but it seems there's almost nothing to wrap up. This story seems to go onward through American history and through the generations.

The year was 1849, and Patrick Kennedy decided to emigrate from his native Ireland, a land where Roman Catholics were mostly despised and Protestants felt the potato famine and starvation were God's will. Kennedy witnessed unimaginable horrors, stories which would haunt his family for generations. Patrick was long on ambition and short on scruples—traits that were passed along for a century and a half.

He felt the English were casting him out of his homeland, and his bitterness lasted a lifetime. Kennedy hated the English, but reserved a special nastiness for Jewish people. For some reason, Kennedy and future generations felt a sense of entitlement—they would work hard, play hard, and only rarely would they feel they should be constrained by someone else’s rules or ethics.

This sense of omnipotence and psychopathic narcissism would surface throughout future generations. Kennedy would arrive in Boston in the late 1800s. Within nine years he would marry, have children and die of consumption. Along the way, and in that small space of less than nine years, Patrick Kennedy would become a Massachusetts state representative and later a state senator. Patrick would become the founding father of the greatest political dynasty in American history: his son Joseph P. Kennedy would marry Rose Fitzgerald, daughter of John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, then mayor of Boston.

The family would produce three U.S. senators, a U.S. attorney general, multiple members of the House of Representatives, ambassadors to foreign nations, mayors, two additional presidential contenders, and a United States President. It had been the elder Kennedys’ grand design all along to put one of their young men into the White House, where, among other things, they might change the world.

And they almost pulled it off. I still believe to this day that if President John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't been murdered in the 1960s, the world be a totally different place. I feel as though they were power hungry but also sought acceptance and adoration, so they would have done whatever was necessary to leave the Earth a better place.

Fans of the Kennedys may not enjoy the book too much, because the author doesn't sugarcoat history. Klein was a dear friend of Jackie Kennedy, penning the New York Times bestsellers All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy and Just Jackie: Her Private Years. Covering JFK's 1960 presidential campaign, he also served as a foreign correspondent in Asia. He spent 11 years as editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, helping it win its first Pulitzer Prize in history.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and this is almost certainly one of those instances. The Kennedy Curse is an incredible romp through this nation's history, while also standing as a cautionary tale to always do the right thing and understand you will be held responsible for your actions.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Great Rift: How a Party of Became Divided; book of The Passage of Power; Thursday Review; May 9, 2013.

The Riskiest of High Risk TV; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 21, 2013.