William Shakespeare captured literature’s most famous feud – the Capulets vs the Montagues – with the immortal line, ‘What’s in a name?’
Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is burdened with perhaps the most recognisable name in international affairs and is a member of the family as close to dynastic US political royalty as it is possible to be.
The recently announced US Ambassador to Australia still carries vestiges of the inherited good looks which made her parents so adored across much of 1960s America.
Her appointment has produced rivers of gushing Australian media hagiographies by those seduced by the Kennedy-Camelot myth.
Confidante and close friend to multiple Democrat presidents, she is supposedly Joe Biden’s personal pick to fly the flag at the massive US Yarralumla embassy compound on the hill across Adelaide Avenue from the Prime Ministerial Lodge in more plebeian Deakin.
As a privileged Kennedy, Caroline is no stranger to compound living and the high life. Nor is this her first ambassadorial appointment, after having been Obama’s appointment to Japan between 2013-17.
The Kennedy name still inspires emotions from adulation to loathing in America – not always motivated by politics alone.
Modern patriarch Joseph Patrick Kennedy Snr. was born into a Boston Irish political family, the grandson of a cooper who ‘prospered’.
His stevedore father, boosted with a loan from his mother, rose from those humble beginnings to make his fortune in saloons and importing whisky, diversifying into coal and stocks.
Joe Kennedy further invested in banking, securities, and other commodities such as Hollywood production companies. His marriage to Rose Fitzgerald produced nine children, including four boys.
Many accounts suggest he continued the family’s lucrative and previously legitimate high-end spirit importation business during Prohibition, smuggling imports from his Canadian suppliers.
Joe’s political patronage led to senior government sinecures, particularly under President Franklin Roosevelt, who curiously appointed the anti-British, anti-Semitic pro-German to be Ambassador to Great Britain between 1938-40 as the European war commenced.
Kennedy aspired to replace Roosevelt as the Democrat presidential nominee in 1940, but the wily Roosevelt successfully ran for an unprecedented third term, effectively side-lining the outspoken, defeatist Kennedy to shore up the Catholic vote.
A shameless philanderer, Joe Kennedy conducted open affairs with (among others) Hollywood stars Gloria Swanson and Marlene Dietrich. He was not even above hitting on his daughter Kick’s teenage friends.
Joe Kennedy’s determination to use whatever means at his disposal to have his eldest son elected the first US Catholic president was thwarted when Joe Jnr. was killed on active service in Britain. Second son John Fitzgerald Kennedy now became the focus of his father’s ambitions. John was a decorated and wounded US Navy World War II veteran who married well, but nonetheless inherited the apparently insatiable male-Kennedy philandering gene.
Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his glamorous wife Jacqueline née Bouvier were already America’s favourite political couple when their eldest daughter, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, was born on November 1957.
On November 8, 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the youngest elected and first Catholic president.
His son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jnr. was born 17 days later, almost three years to the day before his father was assassinated in Dallas.
Camelot may have been America’s future dream, but John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the Kennedys were the stuff of nightmares to enough people to have made multiple enemies.
The Camelot legend has grown exponentially since Kennedy’s untimely death, owing more to the Kennedy name and its unfulfilled expectations than the mostly overlooked, long-term failures of policy and personal propriety.
Caroline Kennedy’s life ever after has been unremarkable, except for the inherited privilege which provided her an ivy league education. This was further extended by family tragedy and scandal, an unremarkable marriage with three children, regular visitations of the so-called ‘Kennedy curse’, and various political patronages which allowed her to use her family antecedents to her personal advantage.
She remained untouched by personal scandals or indiscretions, but her political ambitions were limited to a briefly expressed interest in following Hilary Clinton into the Senate along with representation on Democrat committees.
In a New York Times piece, she described candidate Obama as A President Like My Father which, although naively cute, was seen by her opponents as a back-handed compliment.
Mediocre by any standard – except her name and inherited wealth – whether she will make a great ambassador or an unremarkable incumbent remains to be seen.
She has already made much of her father’s wartime service in the Solomon Islands which, she will discover, are probably peripherally less important to the US than they are to Australia.
In recent years, the important Canberra ambassador’s role has fallen victim to vicious partisan American politics. Rose Kennedy’s granddaughter may yet be thwarted by a hostile Senate.
Perhaps Shakespeare was more of a Nostradamus than bard when he remarked, ‘’Tis but thy name that is my enemy: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.’
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