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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- ‘Kennedy’ Name Returns To Congress As Joe Kennedy III Wins 4th District (boston.cbslocal.com)
- The Kennedys are back in Congress (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Kennedy takes fourth congressional seat in decisive win over Bielat (boston.com)
- Kennedy Win Sends Bay State Political Scion to Congress (bloomberg.com)
- Congress has a new Kennedy (smh.com.au)
- In Massachusetts, a Kennedy returns to Congress (reuters.com)
- Talented Joe Kennedy the next great Kennedy political leader? — The next generation of Kennedys comes to bat in Boston race (irishcentral.com)
- Joe Kennedy Nabs Congress Seat (abcnews.go.com)