What is it with Kennedys and moving vehicles? Put them in a plane or behind the wheel of a car and disaster is only a few heartbeats away. We should be glad they’re so rich they ride in limos most of the time, because if not for their chauffeurs, we’d all be in danger.
A lot of people have been hard on Robert Francis Kennedy, Jr. because of the conflict between his strident environmentalism and his hypocritical use of a chauffered Ford Expedition, but I say give the man a break. He’s getting driven around in a gas-guzzler for the sake of humanity. We can’t enjoy clean air if we get run over while standing on a street corner breathing it.
The tragic history of the Kennedys and vehicles is documented as far back as World War II, though I suspect they were crashing oxcarts in Ireland in the early 1800s. JFK’s elder brother Joseph was shot down in a plane during the war, echoing the dramatic death of his nephew John F. Kennedy, Jr. in a crash in 1999 while flying a private plane to Martha’s Vineyard with his wife and her sister on board.
JFK Jr.’s death was shocking, but the Kennedy clan seems to have a lot more trouble with cars than with planes. Perhaps they realize that flying is just too dangerous when you’re genetically incompatible with steering and born without a directional sense of any kind.
The most famous driver in the family is third-string patriarch Teddy. The senior Senator from Massachusetts almost ended his political career in 1969 when he drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, plunging his Olds Delmont 88 into a pond and drowning his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. His career eventually recovered, but his personal life has been plagued with problems associated with drinking and poor personal judgement.
Former Congressman Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, once heir apparent to the Senate seat of his uncle Teddy, has had driving problems too. In 1973 he was the driver of an open top Jeep which he drove off a road and rolled several times. The accident crushed the spine of passenger, Pam Kelley, crippling her for life.
Now the Kennedy driving magic is in the news again. At 3 a.m. on Thursday, Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) sideswiped a capitol police car and crashed his car into a security barrier, coming inches from killing a capitol police officer. He then got out, staggered around drunkenly, and told the officer that he was late for a vote, despite the fact that the rest of the Congress had gone home hours before. He has since claimed that he doesn’t even remember getting up and getting dressed, much less driving down to Capitol Hill. The police report cites alcohol as being involved in the accident, and Kennedy has admitted to having an ongoing prescription painkiller problem. Today he checked himself into the Mayo Clinic for rehabilitation for the second time in six months.
Statistics do show that on average any person in the United States will be involved in some sort of car accident every five years. But most of those accidents don’t involve drugs or alcohol and don’t result in the deaths of passengers. The Kennedys seem to exceed the national average for accident lethality and basic irresponsibility.
Some seem to write this off as a charming eccentricity or part of their Irish heritage, but it seems like it’s also a symptom of deeper character flaws. There is a basic irresponsibility and arrogance that seems to be bred into some who come from backgrounds of great privilege. They assume that success and good fortune are their birthright and never consider the consequences of their actions.
To their credit, many of the families of the American multi-generational plutocracy try hard to teach responsibility to their children. They embrace the idea that wealth and social responsibility go hand in hand. Some scions of this class go through a maturing process where they realize that there is a price that has to be paid for a permanent adolescence of self-indulgence, and learn to balance their amusements with good works. Ideally this is supposed to be an evolution each individual goes through, from profligate youth to productive maturity. It’s something all of us experience to some degree, which gets amplified and exaggerated by wealth and status.
In the case of the Kennedy clan the pattern seems to be different. Some members take to a life of service seriously and with great success, seemingly using good works to expiate a feeling of guilt for all of their special opportunities. Others seem to exist in a foggy realm of presumed unaccountability where it’s always summer, they’re eternally 16, and wine, women and song – or Scotch, interns and drugs – are always flowing freely. In particular, the hard-working and long-suffering women of the clan and women who marry into the clan seem to end up paying the price for the bloated, self-indulgent men. The men enjoy the life of Dorian Gray and their wives and sisters end up as the haggard portrait that his sins settle on.
It’s a hell of a way to live, both fascinating and repulsive to those of us on the outside and certainly irresistible to the jackals of the media. On balance they’ve probably done more good than bad as a family, even counting Papa Joe’s questionable Nazism and rum-running. For the most part, their lives of dissipation harm only themselves. But when they get behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, that changes, and they become dangerous to those around them, both their passengers and innocent bystanders. Hence my plea: Kennedys, for the sake of all of us, get a chauffeur. While you’re at it hire a pilot. You can afford it!