Editor’s note: This column was first published in August 2017 in connection with news events taking place at that time.
I feel bad for Joe Kennedy III.
Since he was elected in 2012, the choirboy-ish, teetotalling congressman has tried hard to build a political career, and possibly a run for higher office, while strenuously steering clear of the things that make some people so dislike his storied, sprawling family: the brashness, the entitlement, the out-of-control behavior.
But then, boom, there goes his uncle Max, reminding everybody of all the worst Kennedy traits. As meltdowns go, early Sunday morning’s appears to have been a doozy, according to the police report. Max Kennedy, 52, and his daughter Caroline, 22, were arrested after arguing with police officers responding to a loud party in a rented house near the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.
Neighbors had repeatedly complained about the loud music at the nine-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath home, and the hosts (it is unclear whether Max Kennedy was a host or a guest, but he definitely seemed to be in charge) simply would not oblige them. To most of us, or at least to most of us over the age of 17, that would be unimaginable — especially after the police showed up. But the police report indicates that the people partying in that gracious Hyannis Port home (Zillow puts its worth at $3.4 million), felt the rules didn’t apply to them. Theirs was clearly an especially potent strain of white privilege.
When the police officer tried to enter the home, Max Kennedy was allegedly out of control. The report says he was “now screaming incoherently and throwing himself at the wall. When he hit the wall, he grabbed a wall cabinet (filled with glass valuables) and threw it smashing the contents.” There goes the rental deposit.
When the officer placed Kennedy under arrest, the crowd yelled, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” Caroline tried to let her father out of the cruiser and was also arrested. At the police station, she told the booking officer, “I went to Brown and I’m a teacher, sweetheart!” Apples and trees.
The police report says Caroline was drunk and her father had glassy, bloodshot eyes and was sweating, though his blood alcohol level was zero.
What an unholy mess. When I covered Max Kennedy’s flirtation with a congressional run 16 years ago, he struck me as a quintessential California type, a goofy but decent guy who was clearly out of his depth in Massachusetts politics. He’d overcome addiction in his youth and seemed to have landed happily on the positive side of his family’s painful ledger. If he needs help now, I sure hope he gets it.
But man, he and his daughter sure hit every stop on the runaway Kennedy train: lavish living, hard partying, buffoonery, don’t-you-know-who-I-am-ism.
It’s just the side of the family Joe Kennedy III has tried to make people forget in Congress. While it’s true that his storied name cleared the field before his first election, he’s worked hard since to advance under his own steam. He has avoided the attention-seeking combativeness of his father, who served six impatient terms in Congress. He has instead adopted the obsessive focus on constituents for which his late uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, was famous, attending dozens of district meetings and sending handwritten notes. He has also tried to build relationships with Republicans, as Ted did.
In the past few months, the congressman has become more of a firebrand, his profile rising as he has sharply criticized the Trump administration. A blistering speech on the House floor after Speaker Paul Ryan called a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act “an act of mercy” went viral. “This is not an act of mercy,” Kennedy said. “It is an act of malice.”
Though he’s 36, the younger Joe has long been described by friends and family as the grown-up among them — the one they’ve always gone to for advice. He seems even more so after Sunday. In his later years, it was Ted Kennedy who, despite his own troubled past, was his family’s stabilizing influence, his staffers tending to them all.
That role now falls to Joe Kennedy III, whether he likes it or not. Like many of us whose relatives do embarrassing things, he seems to like it not. His office declined to comment on Max’s arrest on Wednesday.