Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The dissolution of Camelot

"Camelot," the popular Lerner and Loewe musical concerning the Arthurian legend has been used by popular historians to describe the short-lived period of high expectations and general good feeling of the young John Kennedy presidency. The mythical kingdom imagined by T. H. White in "The Once and Future King" was used by the successful Broadway team as the basis for the book for their musical vehicle that starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews as Arthur and Guinevere and also launched the career of Robert Goulet as Lancelot. That it came to the Great White Way around the same time that Kennedy and his young wife moved into the White House was propitious. Although decided by an extremely close margin, the 1960 election led to high hopes for this young, dashing president as he assembled a new administration during the peak of the Cold War. The nation's expectations were palpable. There is little doubt that when Kennedy was assassinated and the nation was left to mourn his loss, the feeling of dread and regret was also similar to that felt at the end of the musical where King Arthur sees all he had hoped to institute has been lost. It was no secret that the great hope of tycoon Joseph Kennedy, ironically a former ambassador to the Court of St. James's, was that he would have a son elected as the first Catholic President of the United States. After losing his oldest son and namesake, Joe, in a World War II plane crash, the former isolationist pinned all of his hopes on second son John, who had emerged as a genuine war hero during maneuvers in the Pacific. When in 1953 then-Senator John married the former Jacqueline Bouvier, a photographer for Look Magazine, the dynamic couple went to the top of the A-lists in Washington society. Despite a tragic miscarriage, the young Senator's family grew with the addition of daughter Caroline and his wife was pregnant for most of the campaign. Two weeks after his election and before they moved into the White House, a baby boy, John, Jr., arrived. Here was an idyllic young family that enchanted a nation. "For one brief shining moment that was here in Camelot," King Arthur would sing. Because of their unwavering sense of duty and service to their country, the entire Kennedy family has been likened to American royalty. Notable monarchies have had their share of tragedy, but the Kennedy family beginning with Joseph Sr. and matriarch Rose has had more than most of them. The additional assassination of middle brother, presidential candidate and former Attorney General Robert Kennedy; the plane crash of youngest brother Edward, known as "Teddy," which left him in pain for the rest of his life; the 1969 automobile crash that killed his companion, Mary Jo Kopeckne; the more recent plane crash that killed John Jr. and his beautiful wife Carolyn and her sister; the drug overdose and skiing accident that took the lives of David and Michael (Robert's sons); and several others that need not be mentioned. In Louisiana, Judge Edmund Reggie from Crowley first became friendly with John Kennedy when he first ran for vice-president in 1956. Later, he was crucial in Louisiana's support of Kennedy in the 1960 election. The Kennedy and Reggie families became close. Years later, after the breakup of his marriage, Ted Kennedy would begin to date Reggie's daughter Victoria, affectionately known as Vicki. I've known Judge Reggie and his son Ed Michael, who worked for my mom at our family's record store and was a classmate of mine at Tulane University. As his second wife, it was Vicki, a divorced Washington attorney, who has been credited with changing Ted Kennedy and making him much more grounded over the course of the last 17 years. In fact, Vicki might have been responsible for transforming the last of the Kennedy brothers into a legislator with more respect and clout than he might have enjoyed without her. Senator Kennedy's death signals the last vestige of the era of Camelot has dissolved into the mist. While it is true that Caroline has her children and that several Kennedy heirs from Bobby and Teddy are still very involved in public service, it seems to me that this most recent passing signals a break from the past. That generation is now gone and America is left to mourn for the last Kennedy brother. Regardless what we may feel about his political philosophy, there are few detractors who won't give Senator Kennedy the credit that is due to home as one of the great lions of the Senate and a man whose influence will dim only with the passage of time. We are all somehow less without this giant politico and I feel a sense of great loss that is only tempered by the knowledge that he, unlike his brothers, had the gift "of the length of years."

No comments: