John and Robert Kennedy, it always seemed to me, were restless in the Senate. Sure, you could vote and make speeches and affect legislation. They both, I thought, wanted to be in charge of something so they ran for president. One made it; the other was murdered trying.
Edward Kennedy, the youngest brother, took over John's seat as soon as he was old enough--thirty. A family friend kept it warm during the wait. Ted Kennedy was elected in 1962 and he's been there ever since, longer than anyone except Robert Byrd of West Virginia who was probably standing there waiting when they first brought the desks into the Chamber.
And the youngest Kennedy likes the Senate. I mean, you'd have to, to stay there that long. He likes it and he's been good at it--always an excellent staff, had an influence on a lot of legislation. John McCain said, on learning of Kennedy's brain tumor diagnosis, "I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate...because he remains the single most effective member...if you want to get results." He is a liberal, of course, a spokesman for liberal causes, but one who was always willing to work with Republicans to achieve a common goal.
A very effective senator, and, when he ran in 1980, a very ineffective presidential candidate. I think he only did it because it was what the Kennedy men did. When CBS's Roger Mudd asked him on camera why he wanted to be president, the answer was, to put it kindly, hard to understand. Something about natural resources, I remember that.
I don't think we've ever had a political dynasty quite like the Kennedys. Sure there have been other families--several Roosevelts were in politics one way or another. But none of them turned into rock stars. The Kennedys did, whether it was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis telling Theodore White about Camelot, or Robert Kennedy in 1968 breaking the news of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination to a mostly black campaign crowd: "I too had a bother who was killed by a white man," or whatever your favorite memory of the brothers is.
We've been lucky, I think, to have had them around all these years.