Few believe the current generation will match the achievements of the three brothers - a president, an attorney general and a senator.
Is the Kennedy 'magic' on the wane?
WASHINGTON // The death of the senator Edward Kennedy brought an end to the most powerful generation of the foremost political dynasty in the United States. But it also raises questions for a family that has enthralled the public for decades with its ascendancy, personal tragedy and periodic scandals: who will carry the Kennedy standard into the future?
After the funeral service at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic basilica in Boston, in which the US president, Barack Obama, gave a eulogy, Kennedy was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, near his brothers John and Robert. Few predict that the current crop of Kennedys will match the achievements of the three brothers. A group of siblings that included a president, an attorney general and an eight-term senator, is, after all, a tough act to follow. A fourth member of that generation, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the wife of a former vice presidential candidate, rose to national prominence as the founder of the Special Olympics. She died on August 11.
If the family has passed its prime, however, the Kennedy name continues to hold sway and intrigue for many in this country and around the world and probably will for years to come. Members of the Kennedy family continue to occupy some of the country's top political posts and other Kennedys are rumoured to be seeking them. Still others have forged ahead with careers in public service as philanthropists, environmentalist and founders of charitable organisations.
"The magic isn't quite the same for this generation," said Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University in Washington and former consultant to Edward Kennedy. "But this generation, while it's not going to guide the destiny of the country, still has contributions to make." The brightest political star belongs to Edward Kennedy's second son, Patrick, who is serving his eighth term as a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island. Despite his sometimes-public struggle with a prescription drug addiction, he is well liked by his constituents and many predict a long political future.
His cousin Maria Shriver, the daughter of Eunice Kennedy, is the first lady of California and a television journalist. She enjoys a strong national profile that could serve her well in a run for elected office. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of the slain president, is nationally known for her charitable work and as the public face of the new generation of Kennedys. Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, who was 15 when his father, Robert, was murdered on the campaign trail, served more than a decade in Congress and has been mentioned as a potential successor to Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts. So too has his younger brother, Robert Francis Kennedy Jr, a prominent environmentalist.
Having the last name Kennedy is not a guarantee of political success, at least not in the way it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when three brothers, sons of a former US ambassador to Britain, stormed up the political ladder with uncommon ease, bounding past their more experienced colleagues. Another of Robert Kennedy's children, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, lost her bid for the governorship of that state in 2002. That same year, her cousin, Mark Kennedy Shriver, who served years in the Maryland House of Delegates, was defeated in his campaign for a Maryland congressional seat.
Perhaps the more striking example of the limits of the Kennedy name came last year when Mrs Kennedy Schlossberg declared her interest in the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, who became secretary of state. Mrs Kennedy withdrew her name as a potential candidate for the seat, which was to be filled by the governor, after a growing chorus of critics said she lacked qualifications other than the family name. Similar criticism has been directed at her cousin Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago businessman, who was mentioned as a potential candidate for Illinois governor and for Mr Obama's vacated Senate seat. "Being a Kennedy is a bit like a double-edged sword," said Prof Lichtman, the historian. "On the one hand it's an entrée to everything; on the other hand, of course, there is always going to be reaction against the supposed claims of privilege."
Such criticism has long been levelled at the Kennedys and in some cases it may have been warranted. A young Edward Kennedy was groomed to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by his brother, the president, who installed his college roommate in the post to hold it until Edward reached the minimum required age of 30. His opponent in the election, Edward McCormack, charged in a debate that without the name Kennedy, the candidacy would be a "joke". In another act of nepotism - now banned - John Kennedy tapped his brother Robert to be his attorney general.
"The essence of the Kennedy machine in those days was blood," said Thomas Maier, author of The Kennedy's: America's Emerald Kings, who noted that much of the family's success was fuelled by the ambition and fortune of their father, Joe, the businessman turned diplomat, and their mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, daughter of a Boston mayor. "There is nothing as motivating as a father who is deeply committed to your success and your brothers and your sisters who are willing to put aside their own momentary goals for your greater success," Maier said.
But now the Kennedy political juggernaut is much diminished, he added. "I am not sure who among the third generation would have that level of commitment to their siblings and their cousins for a political campaign," he said, adding that the public seems to have little appetite for "perpetuating dynasties". "That combination of money and politically savvy was at the heart of what Joe and Rose called the 'family enterprise'. I think, with Ted's passing, it kind of just fades away." In recent years, in fact, many have come to believe that the Kennedy torch is best carried by a man who comes from outside the bloodline, a political virtuoso who recently pulled off his own Kennedyesque rise through the political ranks: Mr Obama.
His blend of inspirational politics and his agenda of liberal reforms, particularly his focus on health care, were very much forged in the Kennedy mould, political analysts say. Furthermore, some say that Mr Obama's ascendancy to the White House, aided by a strong endorsement from the Kennedy family, was in fact made possible by civil rights legislation and immigration reform conceived and enacted by the previous generation of Kennedy politicians. "I think Barack Obama is very much the direct descendant of the Kennedy legacy," Maier said.