In our continuing series on how political power conveys sexual prerogatives, we review the seven most important Kennedy sex scandals.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 21, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Reckless Sex and Power III: The Top Seven Kennedy Sex Scandals
As Ted Kennedy's malignant brain tumor became public knowledge, opponents, friends, and pundits rushed to laud his accomplishments. Serving in the Senate since 1962, Ted Kennedy has been one of our most accomplished legislators. He has a big heart, works hard, and is extremely knowledgeable about both legislative content and procedure. Sometimes Kennedy (as when he vehemently opposed entering the war in Iraq) seems like the only American politician who can speak his mind freely. His efforts on behalf of those without privilege or power - as in the case of health care - are especially important and admirable.
Little has been said about his prior legal, marital, and ethical lapses, on the other hand. These are typical omissions in polite society. (I wonder if supporters feel that if they don't remind God of his lapses, Kennedy is more likely to get into Heaven.) However, as scientists of the mind, we at PT blogs are obligated to consider the entire range of human behavior. And the various Kennedys' sexual misdeeds are so notable that they raise - once again - the question of the relationship between power, recklessness, and sex. (See Why Politicians Get Laid More - the Low Road to the High Life, Sex Addicts Anonymous Meeting, Politicians' Division, and Edwards' confession shows us just how nutty and narcissistic he is.)
Here, in reverse order of importance, are the top seven Kennedy sex scandals:
- Joe Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy and former Congressman, secretly had his 12-year marriage to Sheila Rauch annulled by the Vatican. Rauch only found out about the annulment years later, after Kennedy remarried. She wrote a very angry book about the experience, Shattered Faith, since the Church's decreeing that the marriage never existed left her twin sons in everlasting limbo. Rauch pointed out that only powerful people like the Kennedy's could unilaterally cancel 12 years of marriage. (This raises the question of whether the Church can gain entry to Heaven for powerful people who have sinned.)
- One of the storied political couplings of the twentieth century was between Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy. The younger Cuomo was forced to withdraw his own bid for the governorship (although he is now New York's Attorney General) in 2002 when it was revealed that his wife, to whom he had been married 13 years and with whom he had three daughters, had been having a long-term affair with a married man. Kerry Kenedy's philandering shows that Kennedy disregard for marital niceties extends to the distaff side of the family as well.
- An extremely unappetizing Kennedy scandal involved Joe's brother and campaign manager, Michael. Like his brother and sister, Michael was stably married with children when it was revealed he had been having an affair with a family babysitter, beginning when the girl was 14! This, of course, is a crime that would get a non-Kennedy registered as a sexual predator. For some reason (perhaps bribery and threats to her and her family), the girl refused to press charges, and Kennedy entered treatment for sex and alcohol addiction. Michael Kennedy had been keeping an extremely low profile when he died in an accident on a family skiing trip.
- All of these scandals concerned third-generation Kennedy's. But the stories of sexual assaults, infidelity, and religious hypocrisy began with the family's patriarch, Joe Kennedy. In Swanson on Swanson, silent screen star Gloria Swanson revealed having an affair with Kennedy when, she claimed, he forced himself on her during his business trips to Hollywood when he left his saintly wife, Rose, at home in Massachusetts. (Swanson was most pissed off that, despite his legendary financial acumen, Joe lost a ton of her dough.) Other Kennedy family historians report that the elder Kennedy made advances on his sons' girlfriends!
- Back to the younger Kennedy's, in 1991 Kennedy nephew William Smith was charged with rape while staying with uncle Teddy in the family's seaside estate in Palm Beach, FL. The woman claimed she met Smith at a night club at which he was accompanied by Ted Kennedy and his son, Patrick. Later, while ostensibly showing her around the estate, Smith began pursuing and pawing her as she tried to escape. Other women were found who described having similar experiences with the Kennedy nephew, but Smith was acquitted.
- Both President Jack Kennedy - whose sexual escapades were legendary - and younger brother Bobby had closely contiguous sexual liaisons with Marilyn Monroe. Numerous conspiracy theories have been developed around the Kennedys' involvement in Monroe's death, which occurred in the aftermath of these affairs. At a minimum, the relationships were extremely damaging to Monroe's fragile mental health.
- What could most interfere with Ted Kennedy's passage to Heaven (as it frustrated his aspirations to be president) was his involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Following a party with six young female campaign workers on the island of Chappaquiddick, Kennedy was giving Kopechne a ride back to her hotel when he drove off a bridge. Kopechne drowned in the car, and Kennedy left the scene to consult with Kennedy family advisers. In fact, he never reported the incident, which was discovered independently the next morning! Kennedy was charged only with leaving the scene of an accident.
Of course, you and I can wonder how our lives would have been derailed if we were involved in a situation like this (Kennedy was married). But the Kennedy's are not deterred by such experiences, as the subsequent actions of his nephews and niece indicate. Are there separate rules - both legal and psychological - for people like the Kennedy's?
P.S. (Feb 19, 2009): Perhaps the greatest "scandal" - more of a tragedy - was the case of Ted's wife at the time of Chappaquiddick, Joan Bennett Kennedy, who became a ravaged alcoholic (in 2005, when she was 68, her children took legal guardianship of her affairs after several late-life drunken episodes). The "Kennedy wife thing" of tolerating non-stop cheating while establishing her own life didn't work well for her (unlike Jackie ). According to the Boston Globe: "During the [wedding] festivities, Jack [who was 15 years his brother's senior], Ted's godfather and best man, wore a microphone because the Bennetts had hired a film crew as a wedding gift. Later, watching the footage, Joan would hear Jack whisper to his brother that marriage didn't mean you had to be faithful." Question for Kennedy buffs - did Ted contribute to Joan's lifelong alcoholism ?