As Sen. Edward M. Kennedy lay on a hospital bed after being stricken with a brain tumor, a fight for power began within the Kennedy clan, Edward Klein writes in his book “Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died,” which hits bookstores this week.
In particular, Kennedy’s wife, Vicki, and his nephew Joe Kennedy II vied over who was in charge, foreshadowing an expected hand-to-hand tussle over which one of them might run for Ted’s Senate seat after he dies, according to Klein’s inside account.
“I spoke to several people who were in the hospital room where Ted was recuperating from his seizure before he had his brain operation,” Klein tells Newsmax.
They say that the senator’s wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and former Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy II “are vying with each other behind the scenes over who’s going to be the head of the family and who is going to run for Ted’s seat in Massachusetts when he dies,” Klein says. “Vicki is very unpopular within the family, because she’s seen as an interloper by many of the cousins. She is not liked within the family, and Joe Jr. has a reputation of being a very blustery, arrogant guy, so he’s not too popular, either. And these two rather unpopular figures are lining up support within the family and outside the family for the donnybrook that is likely to come after Ted dies, between Vicki and Joe Jr.”
[Editor’s Note: "Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died," Go here now.]
A former foreign editor of Newsweek and editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine, Klein is the author of a number of best-selling New York Times biographies. Arguably Klein's best work, “Ted Kennedy” is a masterful account, providing fly-on-the wall perspective into one of America’s most powerful and secretive families.
Klein reminds us of Kennedy’s womanizing and drinking days and his shameful failure to call the police or fire department to try to save the life of Mary Jo Kopechne when he drunkenly drove with her into Poucha Pond at Chappaquiddick. Because of a local coverup, no autopsy was performed.
But according to John Farrar, a rescue squad scuba diver who recovered Kopechne’s body, the Kennedy staffer had positioned herself to gasp the last bit of air in the car. She died of lack of oxygen and might have lived for several hours after the accident, Farrar says. Yet Kennedy failed to notify police until more than nine hours after the accident. In the meantime, he tried to get his cousin Joe Gargan to say he had been driving.
But in a book remarkable for its fairness, Klein also shows how Kennedy became determined to be an effective politician while never giving up his principles, and why he now is considered the most effective member of the Senate.
“It is no exaggeration to say that his stamp has been on every piece of progressive legislation for the last 40 years, starting with the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, up to and including No Child Left Behind and beyond,” Klein says.
“Everyone in the Senate will tell you that his staff is considered not only the largest staff in the Senate, because he pays for a number of the people out of his own pocket, but also the best staff in the Senate,” Klein says. “He is enormously popular among all the members of the Senate, including some of the most conservative members, because he does not personalize his politics.”
Kennedy understands that the Senate is “essentially a boys’ club — although it now has girls — and if you really want to be effective, you need to be able to build coalitions, be able to call upon friends on both sides of the aisle,” Klein says. “I’ve spoken to many conservative members of the Senate who have only very good things to say about him — even though they totally disagree with his politics.”
Kennedy’s days as a “dissolute, boozy, woman-abusing person have been over with since he married Vicki in 1992,” Klein observes.
Among the revelations in the book, Klein discloses what was behind Caroline Kennedy’s decision to withdraw from consideration to be appointed to the Senate seat Hillary Clinton vacated.
“It was rumored that she dropped out for personal reasons, and the gossip was that it had something to do with either her having an extramarital affair, or her husband having an extramarital affair, or her having tax problems,” Klein says. “It turns out that none of that is true. The reason she dropped out was because of the pressure brought to bear on her from her three grown children.”
According to Klein, “Caroline had expected that once she expressed an interest in this seat, that it would be hers almost automatically. And when that didn’t happen, and when the governor of New York state left her twisting in the wind, she went out on listening tour à la Hillary Clinton and quite frankly made a fool of herself.”
Caroline has “none of the public panache of her father or her Uncle Teddy or Bobby,” Klein says. “She is simply an inept public speaker who in one very famous interview used the words ‘you know’ more than 30 times.”
During her public appearances, it became apparent that “she wasn’t knowledgeable about New York state politics, about New York state’s problems, and she had no policy prescriptions for fixing them,” Klein says. “So she was pilloried in the press, which is the first time this has ever happened to her, ever in her entire life, because she’s always been the sainted daughter of the sainted, assassinated president.”
In part, Caroline had sought the seat to please her uncle Ted, who wanted a Kennedy in the Senate after he died. The reaction to her public appearances so upset her that she turned into “kind of a mean person that nobody had ever seen before,” Klein says.
In effect, the children did an “intervention,” Klein says, resulting in her withdrawing her name from consideration.
In part because Ted Kennedy has had a longer public life, he has achieved more than either of his brothers, John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, Klein notes.
“I think he’s the greatest legislator since Lyndon Johnson,” Klein says. “He has a lot of Lyndon Johnson’s qualities; he understands how the institution works, and it’s not just simply by rules. You can know all the rules and still not be a great senator. Most of the rules, the real rules, are the unspoken, unwritten rules: how to build support for what you’re trying to achieve.”
Regardless of your politics, “Ted Kennedy” is a fascinating read about one of the most consequential men of our time.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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