Pappy and Poppy
By MAUREEN DOWD in Whore City
understood the power of myth. After her husband died,
she planted the shimmering fable of Camelot. And she told her shattered
brother-in-law Bobby to read Edith Hamilton's "The Greek Way."
Bobby was transfixed
by the great families of Greek mythology. He recognized
the hubris of the House of Atreus, with doom seeping down through the generations.
As Ms. Hamilton
wrote of the family of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Electra:
"It was an ill-fated house. . . . A curse seemed to hang over the family, making men sin in
spite of themselves and bringing suffering and death down upon the innocent as well as the guilty."
wrote of the cursed house, "before the old wound can be
healed, there is fresh blood flowing."
with the Old World, but we never lost our taste for ruling families
and their melodramas. Washington now is a cat's cradle of them. The Bushes.
The Clintons. And our fascination with the Kennedys has survived four decades,
even with all the revelations about the ugly side of the glam dynasty.
The Camelot books
keep coming. And opening Friday is "13 Days," a
Kevin Costner movie about the Cuban missile crisis, in which Jack and
Bobby seem very young and very scared facing down the Red Menace.
were the thrilling, self-destroying dynasty. The Bushes are
the dull, self-preserving one.
flew too close to the sun. The Bushes just ask for more
pork rinds," says my friend Evan Thomas, who wrote "Robert Kennedy: His Life."
The Bushes hate
the D-word, as they call it. They think it implies easy
inheritance of high offices without striving.
W.'s not into
Greek mythology. Grandiose introspection wouldn't be his
style. And the fact that he spoke of our NATO allies "the Grecians" during
the campaign is a giveaway he's not reading Edith Hamilton.
The Bush campaign
did have a subtext of revenge and sibling rivalry. But
the Fates never seemed to hover ominously. "The Kennedys had demonic
problems, fabulous women, deep human flaws," Evan Thomas says. "The
Bushies act like they're in a frat house."
His book offers
a gripping portrait of Bobby, wracked by fears after
J.F.K.'s death that he caused it by pursuing the mob, despite his father's
warnings not to (and there was also that little matter of stalking Castro); he
is also terrified about being blackmailed by J. Edgar Hoover and smeared
by L.B.J., and haunted about his own possible assassination.
The only torment
for Jeb, when it appeared he might have failed to work
through his ambivalence in time to deliver Florida to W., was whether he
would get a Thanksgiving drumstick.
have always moved in opposite directions. The Bushes were
trying to de-Anglicize and lose the silver spoon while the Kennedys were
trying to Anglicize and seize it. The ambitious adventurers wanted to seem
like diffident Waspy aristocrats, and vice versa.
a Wall Street banker and senator from Greenwich, had the
pedigreed tennis-anyone family Joe Kennedy frantically emulated. The
Kennedy patriarch, a brilliantly ruthless businessman and legendarily
successful bootlegger, had the buccaneering background the two
white-bread Georges would frantically emulate.
Even as raffish
Kennedys laundered their past, infiltrating Wasp havens
like Hyannis Port, marrying Miss Porter's School debutantes named
Bouvier, giving white-glove teas for female voters during campaigns, effete
Bushes roughened their edges, emigrating to macho West Texas as
wildcatters, marrying Midland librarians and Mexican students, having
barbecues for supporters.
Democrats liked leaders with pretensions to royalty.
The royalist Republicans, needing to appeal to Joe Sixpack, had to trade
the country club and martini image for Buds and burgers.
The Bush dynasty
may be more blithe because neither Prescott nor Poppy
ever pushed his sons into politics. Pappy, as J.F.K. once jokingly referred to his
stage father ("I could feel Pappy's eyes on the back of my neck," he wrote a pal),
demanded his heirs go into politics, and would not take no for an answer.
It was purely
Greek that, after his stroke, one of the few words that old
Joe could speak in response to good news or bad was "No." As the
tragedies rained down upon him, he could only moan, "No-no-no-no."