I ignore those who insist that there’s something untoward about discussing the life’s work of a man at his own funeral—they can begin with his 1970 Health Security Act and work their way forward to the Kennedy-Dodd bill of 2009 on their own. I decline, that is, to say that had I insisted on codifying my ideological commitments in a Senate bill a month before my passing, I would have done so because those commitments were so important to me in life that I wanted them to define my death. Because, in the end, giving one’s natural death to a cherished cause differs from dying for it only by dint of circumstance and timing: to accomplish with one’s death what one fought for in life is the wish of the true believer, and there is nothing untoward in that. But, as I said, there will be none of that.
Instead, I will marvel at the stentorian stupidity of George H. Nash, who received a degree in History from Harvard in 1973 then promptly forgot everything he learned earning it. To Nash, the death of Edward Kennedy represents an opportunity to bemoan “a disconcerting historical trend: the royalization of American politics.” Strangely, he does not begin his investigations with the many powerful branches of the Adams or Walker family trees (despite the former being the most prominent and the latter being the most recent). Instead, he claims that from
Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt to the Kennedys and Camelot, American liberalism has repeatedly succumbed to this phenomenon. It begins in a cult of personality, extends to the leader’s wife and children, and then to a “court” of retainers and apologists.
The royalists, then, are not the ones descended from the state representative of Massachusetts’s 7th district—they are the descendants of the impoverished Irish immigrant that man represented from 1849 to 1851. That bears repeating: the son-in-law of William Walker, Julius Rockwell, represented Patrick Kennedy in the U.S. House of Representatives from the moment Kennedy disembarked in 1849 until Rockwell resigned 1851 and the only worrisome political royalty Nash can locate here are the Kennedys?
Granted, the family to whom he extends this cultish devotion is direct, “the leader’s wife and children,” so emphasis on the children of the Joseph Kennedy, Sr. is warranted: Joseph Jr., John, Robert and Edward are all direct descendants of a single powerful personage, as are the relatives in his other example, the pair of fifth cousins connected by a great-great-great-great-grandfather, Nicholas Van Rosenvelt, upon whose death in 1742 the family splintered into the Republican Oyster Bay and the Democratic Hyde Park Roosevelts.
Wait—now I’m confused.
Not only are the Roosevelts distant cousins instead of sons or brothers, they also belong to opposing factions of a family that’s been at political odds since before the Revolutionary War. How exactly are Republicans who voted for Theodore and Democrats who voted Franklin Delano symptomatic of American liberalism? Moreover, since Nash wants to talk about cults of personality extending to wives and children and courtiers, how could he not mention the two-term Connecticut Senator, Prescott Bush, whose son, George Herbert Walker Bush, and grandson, George Walker Bush, were both President? Does he believe the royalist inclinations of American liberalism are responsible for the Bushes?
Probably not, because this insidious royalism “starts in hero-worship and ends in nostalgia,” and beloved as both Bushes are, neither are afforded the “disturbing” and “disconcerting” treatment “that for nearly a century has afflicted American liberalism.” Anything that “starts in hero-worship and ends in nostalgia” threatens the body politic with an idiot malignance . . . as Nash himself proves when he starts the first paragraph of his essay with some hero-worship and ends it with nostalgia:
On March 30, 1981, Pres. Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated. What if he had died that day, before he had persuaded Congress to enact his signature program of tax cuts? Would his liberal opposition on Capitol Hill have given up their philosophical opposition to his agenda? Would they have stood silent if militant conservatives had tried to rush through sweeping tax-cut legislation as a monument to Reagan’s legacy?
“What if the Great Hero had died in 1981? Would the Golden Age for which I now pine have ever come to be?”
I believe he was better off pretending two of the four most recent Presidents weren’t immediate kin—at least then he made my job a wee bit difficult.