It used to be thought rather touching and certainly harmless when we marked our own milestones through the lives of celebrities. But now the revolt is growing against the celebrity culture, even as the celebs themselves appear to be cashing in on fame more and more. In spite of all his obsessively documented flaws, JFK himself was a real star ; charisma is an over-worked word but his surely still comes across to the generations who don’t remember him. But daughter Caroline? Well done, the highly partisan pro-Democrat Huffington for predicting a rocky road to Hillary’s Senate seat. The New York Times is proving objective, reminding readers that in the end, all politics is local. So is the fashion for dynastic politics coming to an end? The Kennedys of course still qualify as quasi-royalty, perpetually caught in their own unique vortex of tragedy, conspiracy theory, glamour and power which they seem to regards as theirs both by fate and by right. Caroline herself has led a very un-Kennedyesque, discreet and apparently blameless life unlike her father and uncles including the “Lion of the Senate” Ted, who is now lucky enough to reach apotheosis in his final struggle with his brain tumour. Its a long way and a long time from Chappaquiddick.
It now seems as if Ted’s own children and Robert’s aren’t up to the mark to replace Ted as the family’s Senate presence. The Kennedys clearly regard it as unthinkable that no Kennedy should occupy a seat there after 56 or so years ( apart from one short break from 1960 to 62 when a family placeman kept the President’s old Mass. seat warm for Ted to allow him to reach the statutory minimum age of 30).
On Caroline herself , all we have had of her are glimpses, like that moment of another tragedy, when the cancer specialist Hamilton- Fairley was killed by an IRA bomb intended for the Tory MP Hugh Fraser, with whom Caroline was staying at the time. Caroline at least seems to have led the life free of rattling skeletons which is now necessary in this far more prying age – but surely that isn’t enough.
The Bushs, the Clintons, the Kennedys. Political dynasties have always played in the US but never as much as in our supposedly more democratic age. It makes America seem more like those turbulent south Asian democracies which still cling to hereditary elites, with their Gandhis, Bhuttos, Bandaranaikes and Mujibs. It suggests a sclerotic democracy at the top, but perhaps there are grounds for cautious hope for a freeer flow in Obama’s victory.
Dynasties of course are not unknown in Ireland. Thank God the British have at least expelled the hereditaries from sitting as of right in the House of Lords!
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London