History Standing Alongside One’s Personal Life: The End of the Kennedy Era & My Life
(just one of a series of “History Standing Alongside One’s Personal Life”, begun in 1988)
Thursday, August 27, 2009
As I watched them go through the Life of the Kennedy brothers for the 1st time last night, I went through my own Life. Our lives have been connected. I’ve connected them.
But before I get to that, I’ll share my first reactions.
It was yesterday morning, I’d gotten online and it was a news item on my default page.. My exact thought was “Another icon of our generation is gone.” I’m not sure if I used the word “icon” tho. One of the people I grew up. Like the recent passing of the TV guy, “And that’s the way it was.” Walter Cronkite.  It’s a similar thing – they go down memory lane in his life and I see the images and events I grew up with.
My 2nd reaction was that I wasn’t in synch with the gush of all-praise for him. I blame him for being a part of the bad things that happened to the Democratic Party in the 80’s. He should have never run against Carter. It split the party, I realized this later. He helped pave the way for the insanity of Jesse Jackson, and where at each election it was “What does Jesse Want?” Until Bill Clinton came along, that is, and it was, as one commentator sorta said “The train’s pulling out of the station Jesse, do you want to be on it?
Perhaps had Kennedy gotten behind Carter, the Party may have been less vulnerable. More able to mount a solid campaign against Ray-gun in ’84, or ’88.  I didn’t like this mixed feeling. The being out of synch-ness. But there it was.
How strong I identified their family with mine hit stronger last night, after that first show I saw. As I went to bed Tuesday, I wondered if my unconscious would have anything to say about it. It didn’t, as far as I can tell. In the main, what I write here, this is stuff that’s been within me for years and years and years. Maybe just a few sharper points put on and a bit new info.
I pride myself that my first Halloween costume I ever recall wearing was of JFK
“See, I was destined to be politically active”, I’ll jokingly say. It must have been in ’61 or ’62. But who knows, maybe it was in ’60. No matter, it puts me at 4, or 5 or 6 at the oldest. It was so funny. I was going around with the group, but I kept getting invited in, and the adults all laughed and smiled. The design of suit with the JFK monogrammed handkerchief tucked in. And the JFK mask.
I knew we had that mask years later, I saw it. Can’t believe we didn’t keep it. I must have had some say-so in buying that. I can’t imagine Mom pushing it on me, she never spoke politics in all her life.
The space program. My Uncle Bill and I were into it. He and I shared watching it on TV – John Glenn, the whole thing. And the space program was JFK.
Dad and Mom, our family, it felt like the Kennedy’s.
In the late 50′s and early 60′s, our family had it all. Success. Golf. Youth-fullness. A real family with kids in the White House. Like the Kennedy family, we were Irish Catholic, with 10 kids. I 8th of 10, 5th of 5 boys. I always thought Dad looked a bit like JFK. Dad’s job as Corporate Exec VP was going well. Times were good. Dad had big parties for all his workers in the backyard, complete with cute women in bikini’s. We went to Ridge Country Club a lot. Swam. Went on 2 month long vactions in Lake Geneva, and went on a big boat. We laughed while we played in the water at the pier, and rollicked in the inner tube. Dad dove off the pier. He was going to take us on the plane sometime when he went out to California on business.
We had glamor too. Dad & Aunt Rita had been in show business all their lives. So when Aunt Rita’s daughter, cousin Charmian, starred as Lisel in the Sound of Music, we all dressed up and took a ride in limos downtown to see the Chicago Premier. It was Hollywood, red carpet and all.
Then something bad happened. Dad lost his corporate-really-great job. I don’t know exactly what year that was, but it must have been within a few 3 years of Kennedy’s assignation. Things in our family were never the same. I don’t know if I identified with little Robert Kennedy Jr. or not. But I wasn’ t much older than him.
The early ’60′s, that time was the Oehmen family’s Camelot.
Bobby Kennedy’s death. June 6th, 1968.
My oldest sister Patty woke me up in the morning, as usual. She’d usually tell me the time, and I’d usually say something like “You’re kidding.” And she’d reply, “No, I’m not.” My line was just a throw away line that I always said.
On this morning she woke me up with something like “Bobby Kennedy has been killed.” And I said my usual, “You’re kidding.” But I knew she wasn’t. She gave her usual response. Only more intense, and serious.
I wasn’t surprised exactly. Some part of me, it’s like I wanted it to happen. Some weird thing like that. Maybe that it was inevitable. The ‘want it to happen’ wasn’t clear. It wasn’t clearl, like how around that same, when Dad had bought a restaurant, I hoped it would fail. Because then maybe Mom and Dad wouldn’t argue so much. It did, but they didn’t.
I’m not sure, but I may have identified with Bobby. Just tonight, I got the dates put in perspective. June 6th. Just a few weeks before Patty got married. I was just out of 6th grade. Could it really be that his death and King’s were less than 2 months apart? Wow.
And then 2 months later I spend 2 weeks with the Chicoin’s, friends of Mom & Dad’s, with their son on their houseboat. With the two 16 year old girls from the other boat. Did any of this ever come up? Was it all just the eight track, Beatles and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band?
As they explained about his ground level, uncoordinated campaign, it hit me clearly. His youthful supporters were the same one’s who had been inspired by Jack 8 years before.
It’s weird, but somehow up until the last decade or so, I see him as a bit clownish. Like my older brother Billy in the one scene [home movie] where he and I are wrestling in front of the house. Maybe it’s the black hair.
Strange, I never even thought to learn more about him while I lived in Boston. Maybe even then I resented the divisiveness that centered around him in 1980. Maybe it was picking up some of co-worker Paul-e’s attitude “oh, the Kennedy’s were nasty. Joe made his money as a Rum runner.” And then there was the fact thaty
Tonight, learning that he hated Carter from the start and vise versa, and that his campaign was poorly run, it’s taken the edge off my negative feelings about that stuff. He was probably goaded into it. Too bad. He maybe would have had a better shot in ’84.
On Rachel Maddow, she showed a speech he gave in Alaska, just a few days after
the death of King. It had only surfaced recently. It was a fantastic speech, given with clarity and authority and passion.
When they mention how he always had time for the little guy, I smile with my friend Helen Lundergrad.  Her great story about how she met him at the convention, I think it was the 2000 in Los Angeles. In her own words:
“Oh Mr. Kennedy, I’ve got a joke for you,” I said to him. His staff wanted him to keep going, but he told them to stop, he wanted to hear it. And so he did.
Why is a Republican like a condom? One…they block growth, two…[I forget # 2], and three, they cover up pricks. Oh, he laughed at that, he thought it was so-o funny. He’s such a nice man. He really is.”
Teddy and his oldest brother Joe.
They said something about, of all of them, he was closest to Joe.
At a family gathering, when they toasted each other, it was 14 year old Ted who said, ‘a toast to the one who is not with us tonight, Joe” I did something similar with Uncle Bill, and later Brian.
Their own Band of Brother’s, so to speak.
I stole that line from one of the shows tonight. The Kennedy brothers, the trio. With Joe as the fourth in these tributes. Nah, I identified me and my four brothers with the Bonanza Cartwright family, and Ben. On the other hand, like Teddy, I am the youngest male in my family. Hmmm. Never thought of that.
The Kennedy family’s commitment to doing Good, even tho they came from wealth, is incredible. Even more than FDR, the “traitor to his class.”  Imagine 3 brothers, a whole family really, committed to the same core values. I cannot imagine what that must have felt like. Woulda been nice to grow up with that.
Committed to making things happen. To social justice. To the belief that we can do better. That things can get better. That government of course has a role. They put themselves out there. It does not matter that they had faults. Yes, there was the fight for power, and ego, and all that comes with that. Each fought with true Fire in the Belly. Each gave the full measure. I cannot imagine what must have gone through them when Jack was murdered. And then Bobby.
Did I pick up on that? It certainly pervaded those about me. Dad embodied that in many ways. Though by example. By using the skills of his show business profession to entertain, lead fundraisers, and build a parish. I don’t recall him ever talking about it.
I was in grade school from 1962 to ’70. My nuns and priests and lay teachers from Queen of Apostles, they must surely have been inspired by the Kennedy’s. It must have been interwoven with the liberal, radical changes of the Vatican II council. How could it have not? We learned of hope that irrigation would convert deserts to farms, so that no one would go hungry. Nuclear power would solve other problems. The exploration of space and science. And that this and Faith & God were in synch, not in any way in opposition.
We discussed all the issues of the day. Both sides. Being controversial was just accepted. Father Maher embodied that. He stood for Civil Rights. He marched with Martin Luther King in Harvey, a bordering suburb. I recently found out that he was well known in Roseland and south Chicago. Which was on a front line. And he did it in an all white parish in an all white community. Riverdale, where the whites who had lost their homes and everything in the white flight from Roseland were pouring in.
Someplace in all the tributes tonight, I heard one of the Kennedy’s say that a society is measured by how we treat the weakest of us. I concluded that same thing many years ago. Danny told me it was not a new idea. It didn’t matter. It sprung from the collection of all that is Within. That’s a pretty good compliment to them and how they influenced me.
A Full Life.
Ted Kennedy lived to be old.  And so his death is not tragic, like all of his other brothers. So he deserves a real old fashioned Irish wake. Lots of drinking. And celebrating his life. Jez, I hope his family have not forgotten or let go of THAT tradition. Tho the Irish thing, they’ve never played that up at all.
They better enjoy celebrating him as a full-on Liberal. He fought hard and well for the Good. Not let these Republicans pull a Wellstone on them. Of course talk of his Liberal political accomplishments at his funeral. It’s what he was about. At my funeral, they damn sure better talk of my politics.
History Standing Alongside One’s Personal Life.
Some parts of it are more personal than others. Some cover a greater time span. It’s pretty cool how Teddy said at the convention, “…the torch has been passed….” Obama’s a great man to pass it to. 
But there will never be another “The Kennedy’s.”
Friday night, right after the Memorial. I feel like I was invited into their home. It was Irish, tho I guess they’ll drink later. Here was the Vice President of the United States, talking as if to a private gathering. The first, Joespeh P. II, was one of the best. … “every Irishman’s wish is to see their own eulogy. That’s why the Irish call the obituary’s the sports page. And what a great story with them all in the regatta – I can see the terror in them as they hit the bouy, and hear Teddy “ if as the start of the race you’d know that after the 1st bouy you’d be in 7th or 8th place, would you be happy at that? (yes). “Well then, let’s go win this race.” Orin Hatch of all people, what a guy. Being oh so human as he wiped his nose more than once. Telling stories, honest about their fights, yet they boomed with Ted’s laughter. When Orin had asked him one night when Teddy was feeling no pain, would he speak before 200 Morman missionary students and get Fanuil Hall, to each he responded “DONE!” And “…the next day he came to me with the letter in his hand…what else did I promise you last night?” I can see Ted singing. How did he give so much to so many? How is possible for one man to be so large and Good? I wish I could have met him. Ah, but, as Biden hinted at, the next generation of Kennedy’s. This will be nice to see. It is only the The Kennedy Brothers Era that is ending.
 There are a number of people who remind me of Dad. Walter is one of them. Maybe it’s just those super big black glasses. And mustache. Mickey Rooney is another. I’ve always sensed a connection in the tragic look of sadness on LBJ’s face and Dad’s.
2 The leadership of the Democrats during this time, they didn’t understand the need to be pragmatic. They didn’t accept that things had changed. Couldn’t control or reign in their passion. They can be cut some slack in this. After all, they had lost all their leaders. Leaders who clearly understood things take time. But Jesus Christ – it was frustrating for me and Danny.
3 A few other personal comments.
Just a few weeks ago I was talking to a gal from Green Singles. We weren’t right for each other, but we both found each other interesting. She dated Robert Kennedy’s son for a brief while. The one who is associated with Maria Shriver.
Back in 1990, I was at a fundraiser for a guy named Rich McMinneman. He was running for Ward Committemen. At a fundraiser, I say to a guy, “you look a lot like Robert Kennedy.” His answer was “I’m his son.” Or some close relationship. He and Rich had been friends in college or something.
Why does Robert Kennedy Jr’s voice sound so pained? The one who hosts Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. It’s really irritating. Worse than nails on a chalkboard or something. Listening to John and Bobby these past few days, they don’t sound like that. I kinda figured they did.
4 Funny, I’ve never heard any mention of them being traitors to their class. But I’ll bet it no doubt is behind the passionate hatred the Republicans have for them.
5 But why did they let him wear that goofy looking round rimmed hat at the inauguration? FDR wore one of those silly looking things too when he got old. Is that some kind of old man look?
No writing would be complete without talking about his “Generation type.” [see a summary of the book ‘Generations’ by Howe & Strauss in a blog on http://www.NatCapClub.org A child during WWII, by age he was an Adaptive generation type. That type is a mediator between the power of the Civic and the Idealist generations. He was a rock of the Democratic party. Always there, year after year after year. Working for the Best Good, and willing to make incremental changes. Which is the hallmark of his generation type.
6 And he’s from Chicago, even better. And worked in Roseland