The Grandsons of Bobby, Jack & Jackie Kennedy: A New Political Generation

Joe Kennedy, newly-elected US Congressman of Massachusetts' 4th District, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, great-nephew of President Kennedy

Joe Kennedy, newly-elected US Congressman of Massachusetts’ 4th District, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, great-nephew of President Kennedy. (joekennedy2012)

Yesterday, the election of 32-year old Joe Kennedy to the U.S. House of Representatives marked the first of a fourth generation of the most famous political family for half a century to a position of public service. Born in October of 1980, he never knew he grandfather, Robert F. Kennedy, who died in 1968.

Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson.

If recent public forays by the son of his grandfather’s brother, John “Jack” Schlossberg,  are any indication, however, he may not prove to be the only one in his extended family to someday make the effort to continue on in the family profession.

Schlossberg, born in January 1993, also never knew his grandfather, President John F. Kennedy, who died thirty years before his birth.

John, Robert and Teddy Kennedy all served in the U.S. Senate, the latter two simultaneously.

Except for a two-year gap from 2011 until Joe Kennedy’s term begins on January 1, 2013, the Kennedy family had been continuously serving in national office since his great-uncle John F. Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946.

JFK with nephew Joe Kennedy, father of the newly-elected Congressman.

His other paternal great-uncle Edward M. Kennedy, served as U.S. Senator from 1963 to 2009.

His father, Joe Kennedy, II, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1999.

It was in the U.S. Senate, like his two brothers, that Joe Kennedy’s grandfather Robert F. Kennedy had served, from 1965 to 1968.

More popularly known as RFK or Bobby Kennedy, he had also been appointed by his brother President Kennedy to serve as the U.S. Attorney-General from 1961 to 1961.

President Kennedy with his nephew Bobby Kennedy, Jr. as astronaut John Glenn points out the trajectory of his orbit in space, 1962.

His great-grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, though never elected to political office, was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Patrick Kennedy campaigning for Congress with his mother Joan.

His father’s cousin, Patrick Kennedy (son of Teddy Kennedy, also served in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1995 until 2011, which marked the beginning of the two-year gap.

Having worked as a state prosecutor, the Stanford University and Harvard Law School graduate also brings to his new job two experiences uniquely traditional to the Kennedy family. Like many of those in the previous generation, Joe Kennedy worked as a volunteer with the Peace Corps, the international program begun by his great-uncle the President and headed by his great-aunt Eunice Shriver’s husband.

Senator Edward M Kennedy with great nephews Joseph and Matthew Kennedy.

With his fraternal twin Matthew, Joe co-managed the last U.S. Senate campaign of their great-uncle Teddy, following a custom of numerous others in his family who had done likewise, beginning with his grandfather Robert F. Kennedy managing his great-uncle John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.

Accessible rather than aloof, Joe Kennedy followed the same pattern first employed 66 years ago by his great-uncle when he first ran for Congress (and anyone hoping to genuinely connect with voters) by speaking personally to as many individual district residents as possible.

JFK filing papers to run for Congress, 1946.

Like John F. Kennedy, Joe Kennedy went town by town through the district, stopping in at shops, taverns, schools and senior centers, approaching commuters at rail stations, attending gatherings of veterans, policemen and firemen, appearing at parades, festivals, and holiday celebrations.

Heading to the polls on primary day. (joekennedy2012)

Frequently at his side was Lauren Birchfield, a girlfriend of six years to whom he became engaged last January, just prior to announcing his candidacy.

Their relationship is based on more than traditional romance, the fellow law graduates having jointly founded an after-school program. She may prove to be a more overtly political spouse that other wives of Kennedy men elected to national office.

Lauren Birchfield campaigning.(joekennedy2012)

However local his focus, Joe Kennedy and his campaign gleaned considerable national media. While conscious of the fact that his famous name was his initial and greatest asset, as the months went by he proved himself a distinct individual, a quiet speaker, focused on serious issues rather than regaling anyone with tales of his famous relatives. He was less a back-slapper than a listener of constituent stories. Even when talking to voters in bars, he stuck to water;  he does not drink alcoholic beverages, noting that he’s only had two beers in his life.

He also put the influence of the Kennedys in perspective, remarking, “My family has had the great privilege of serving Massachusetts before. They taught me that public service is an honor, given in trust, and that trust must be earned each and every day. That’s exactly what I intend to do.”

Conor Kennedy, son of RFK, Jr. and first cousin of candidate Joe Kennedy with pop star Taylor Swift.

Although Joe Kennedy is the first from the fourth-generation of the famous family to be elected to an official position, he is not the only one of then to generate news recently. Making an unwitting splash in the realm of celebrity gossip and the entertainment media this past summer was his 18-year old first cousin, Conor Kennedy, the son of his uncle Bobby Kennedy, Jr., who briefly dated the pop star Taylor Swift.

And while Joe Kennedy addressed the Democratic National Convention this past summer, also making some news of his own at the week-long event was his second-cousin Jack Schlossberg.

While his mother, the late President’s daughter Caroline Kennedy who was also one of the convention speakers, Schlossberg penned a CNN online piece about the role of young voters in the success of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, for which he had been a volunteer.

Candy Crowley interviewing Jack Schlossberg and his mother Caroline Kennedy.

When CNN‘s Candy Crowley interviewed both mother and son, she asked if a political career was part of his future intentions. His mother said the first order of business was completing his education at Yale University, where he is a sophomore. He nevertheless expressed definitive enthusiasm, saying “Politics definitely interests me. I’m most interested in public service. I think that’s something that I got from being part of my family…[but] I’m not thinking about a political career right now.”

Following his grandmother Jackie Onassis’s death, led from her home by his mother.

In a vein similar to his late uncle John Kennedy, who died when he was six years old,  and his grandmother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who died when he was 17 months old, he’s already demonstrated a talent for articulating himself through the written word.

Besides his CNN essay, which made a pointed case for Obama’s re-election on policy issues, Schlossberg has also been prolific on a wide range of subjects for school publications.

His submission of a 2011 New York Times letter to the editor took strong issue with a November 27 column by Ross Douthat entitled, “The Enduring Cult of Kennedy.” Making the case that “my grandfather” was relevant “not because of Camelot or conspiracy,” he defended JFK’s record on civil rights and nuclear arms reduction.

Jack Schlossberg with his parents, sisters and Navy Secretary looking over a model of a naval destroyer to be named for his grandfather.

Caroline Kennedy has led the effort to encourage study of her father’s presidency.

On the issue of whether the President had intended to escalate the Vietnam War, he added that, “Many who served in his administration, including Ted Sorensen and McGeorge Bundy, long argued that my grandfather would have never invaded Vietnam as Lyndon B. Johnson did.” (The claim about Vietnam reflected an opinion that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis directly asserted to this author in 1987, insisting that her husband revealed his intention to withdraw from Vietnam while they were in Texas, just before his assassination.)

Although he has two older sisters, Rose and Tatiana, the 19-year old is emerging as the most public advocate of their grandfather’s presidential legacy.

It’s a role that their mother Caroline Kennedy has assiduously maintained since she and her late brother founded the annual Profiles in Courage Award  in 1990, and has continued to do alone for over a decade in her role as the president of the JFK Library Foundation.

Schlossberg, his sisters and father, artist and exhibit designer Ed Schlossberg,  joined Caroline Kennedy at a May ceremony where a model of a new navy vessel named for the late President was unveiled.

The grandson of Soviet Premier Khrushchev hands a Soviet coin to the grandson of John F. Kennedy during an October 2012 ceremony at the Kennedy Library. (Boston Globe).

Five months later, however, in October of 2012, it was President Kennedy’s grandson, rather than his daughter, who took center stage in a ceremony with the grandson of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at a JFK Library symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Taking the mike from his dad, a former Congressman.

Despite being of different generations (Joe Kennedy is the senior of Jack Schlossberg by 13 years), both of these great-grandsons of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy adhere to his famous ethos of family unity.

Since neither of them had known their paternal grandfathers, it was their late great-uncle Teddy Kennedy who acted in that capacity for them. In his 2012 Democratic Convention speech, Joe Kennedy pointedly spoke of the legacy of the late Senator to the Democratic Party. Schlossberg was among those eulogizing Senator Kennedy at his 2009 funeral service.

With aunt Kathleen Townsend, mother and fiancee. (joekennedy2012)

Perhaps the most obvious signal that the successful formula of clan unity first impressed by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. upon his children is still being employed by his great-grandson and namesake unfolded during the eleven months following his first forming an exploratory effort for a congressional run.

As Joe Kennedy went on to formally announce his candidacy, relentlessly campaigned for and won his party’s nomination through the town’s of the Fourth District, debated, fundraised, spoke and paraded, he was supported all along the way by his relatives.

His grandmother, parents (who divorced in 1991), brother, cousins, aunts and uncles appeared at numerous events to introduce him and headlined fundraisers.

With his grandmother Ethel Kennedy. (joekennedy2012)

With his grandmother and sister-in-law. (joekennedy2012)

At one point, while he was working the streets to speak with pedestrians and motorists, Ethel Kennedy came by, having driven to the district from her Hyannis Port home, just to rally him with support – and proudly take pictures of him.

At all of his most important campaign appearances, Joe Kennedy was joined by his future wife.

Birchfield. (joekennedy2012)

Unlike some of the wives married to earlier generations in his family, Lauren Birchfield was an extroverted presence on the campaign, comfortable taking center stage herself as a public speaker and utterly familiar with the intricacies of complex public issues.

From all accounts, she was a definitive asset. And, just in case the candidate himself, or his fiancee, or his recognizable relatives weren’t enough, there was also a new family member who appealed to even those not supporting Kennedy.

Banjo, his new dog.

Joe Kennedy and Lauren Birchfield with their dog Banjo. (joekennedy2012)


Categories: First Families, History, Politics, Presidents, The Kennedys

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8 replies »

  1. I love the pictures you find to illustrate your pieces!

    • Hdey – thak you Byron – so appreciate that – I work hard to try and find the best pictures possible – so much time spent vetting which to use – and then sit back and wait to see how long it is before all the ‘mommy bloggers’ swoop down and pick them all clean for their Pinterest pages! Thank you so great you commented.

  2. While there was some bad news early this a.m. 4 this citizen; I was very happy to learn that Joe Kennedy, III had won:). I w as also happy to learn that Jack Schlossberg is turning out to be his Grandfather’s son. A very nice looking young man with brains & personality required for a possible run for office. By coincidence, I’ve just completed Randy Taraborellie’s (sp?) latest bk., Beyond Camelot. A wonderful 800 (+) page tomb of the extended Kennedy family, focusing on the 3rd & 4th generations.

    I was realy sorry to see Joe the III’s father quit Congress, he was very capable and a wonderful speaker. Joe Kennedy’s Uncle Bobby, however, is the one who should B the next Pres. Kennedy. It sounds outrageous at this time, in lieu of the awful and morbid publicity Bobby Jr. suffered in re to his wife Mary’s tragic death. Yet, in spite of the Richardson family’s intent to destroy Bobby Jr., he has kept moving forward. . . giving important speeches at important places. He was also voted, in a magazine poll as being one of the 10 most handsome men over 50!! As America continues to feel the earth move under out feet” as we deal with catastrophic weather. . .we know we need his exceptional knowledge & leadership; he is also leadership (+), as I’ve been told by those fortunate enough to hear him speak, that his level of charisma is off the wall!! As a Presidential Historian, Carl, I’m sure there are instances of people rising up from the ashes of notorious situations & into 1600 Pa Ave. In both the Boomer & X Generations, it appears that ea. candidate has a scandalous past, be it drugs, sex or rockNroll.

    For those who watched Ted Kennedy’s funeral, the speeches of the younger Kennedy’s were so poised and eloquent. Joe Jr., was even handsomer than he was 10 yrs ago; Ted Kennedy Jr., gave a very moving tribute to his father, again the movie star looks and Ivy League polish. It is said that he is also contemplating a near future race, and I hope this is true. Although I’ve been a card-carrying Republican for 10 yrs, I would love to support any one of the young people mentioned. Kennedys think outside the box, they have a history of reaching out to both parties. Even though some arch conservatives make growling noises about Kennedy’s, when push comes to shove, most are quickly disarmed, when they experience a member of the opposition who is open to comprimise and sincere about helping good legislation pass through the agonizing red tape that our govt is constructed of. These young politicans have been taught to think outside the box. They are great examples of what psychologist Irving Maslow refered to as “self actualization”. Creative people who are high achievers; those who love their work and set out to accomplish much. One thing is for sure Carl, you will never have to wait long for a new Kennedy “soaper” to materialize, or lack of material to work with, should you ever feel inclined to write about them.

    • Thanks so much for your commentary – I also believe from what I discern from first watching videos and reading some background material, that they have observed with caution the excesses of elders, and certainly these two have no sense of entitlement whatsoever but are all too determined to prove their own intelligence and capability. Some of the writings by Schlossberg are startlingly articulate for such a young person.Thank you for writing.

  3. thank you carl… congrats joe, bobby is so proud !

    • I think the new Congressman has shown integrity and purpose already. I didn’t have room in this overview piece to go into detail but his vision for how to practically help those he worked with during his time in the Peace Corps is remarkable by any measure and certainly above and beyond what those volunteers typically do.

  4. I am from Massachusetts, and not only that, I and my family have known the Kennedy family for over 50 years. It started when my grandparents first campaigned for John F Kennedy when he ran for Congress here in Massachusetts. So having said that, after Ted Kennedy died, many people asked me if this was the end of the Kennedy Dynasty in Politics. My answer was always the same-no. I would go on to tell them that the next wave of Kennedy’s in Politics would not come from the children of The President, or RFK, or Ted Kennedy etc, but the Grandchildren. And as we can see, Joe Kennedy’s election to Congress is the start.

    And then when I first read John Kennedy Schlossberg’s submission of a 2011 New York Times letter to the editor that he wrote in defense of his Grandfather, President Kennedy to a column written by Ross Douthat, that really made me sit up and take notice. And then when I saw John speak to CNN’s Candy Crowley at the DNC I again was very impressed. He may only be 19, but I see the biggest promise of great things to come again politically for the Kennedy family with him. I can already see in him from the brief glimpses we’ve seen and read of him, a lot of not only his Grandfather, but his Uncles and other members of his family that came before him in Politics.

    And that is just two of the many, many Kennedy Grandchildren who are just now starting to become of age and who could be starting to mull over a life in public service.

    So is the Kennedy Dynasty in Politics dead? No, far from it. Who knows, the best may be yet to come. I certainly hope so. And like my grandparents and parents before me, I’ll be right there campaigning for them. The torch has been passed.

    • Dear mugsysam – What an incredibly well-written comment, thank you – I appreciate it. No question how even among members of an extended family like the Kennedys, a sense of the “family business,” in this case public service can be an over-riding influence. I think the main thing which people sometimes forget after the novelty about such relatives entering public life wears off is that no matter how closely related each one is an individual, influenced by the issues in their times and how well equipped they are to handle them and the incidents of their own unique lives. I know in researching Joe Kennedy that his mother has been an extraordinary support and influence on him, despite being divorced from his father. I think that, generally, sons and daughters of political figures might sometimes pursue elective office with a strong sense of family obligation but that a third generation, like that of Joe Kennedy’s is really motivated more by a desire to change things, to serve the public, since there is diminishing public expectation about their careers. I think what speaks so well of Joe Kennedy in particular is how strong, sober and serious his entire approach to public service has been. No sportsman or playboy but from everything I discovered about him a person of integrity and conviction. Many thanks for writing – I appreciate it.

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