US gripped by the tales of two Kennedys

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The Independent US

America once more is agog at the Kennedys. Two members of that blessed and benighted clan found themselves plunged into campaign mode last week, but their battles were starkly different. One is fighting for high political office; the other is fighting to escape jail.

The campaigns aptly reflect the two halves of the Kennedy opera. Scandal and disgrace stands alongside lofty ambition to serve. The only question is which script the country finds more fascinating – the Kennedys as heroes or as tragic embarrassments?

The embarrassment today is the trial in Norwalk, Connecticut, of Michael Skakel. The nephew of Robert F Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, Mr Skakel, 41, is charged with bludgeoning to death a childhood friend, Martha Moxley, when they were both 15 years old.

So far, Ethel has not appeared at the courthouse, although some still expect her to do so. Maybe, however, she prefers to concentrate on the other Kennedy in the news – her daughter. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 50, surprised no one last Sunday when she came before the cameras to announce her campaign to become Governor of Maryland after serving two four-year terms as Lieutenant Governor. Ethel was among the many Kennedys standing at her side.

It thus falls on a female Kennedy to repolish the somewhat tarnished legacy of the boys, going back to the watery car accident suffered by Senator Edward Kennedy at Chappaquiddick in 1968, in which his female companion drowned, and the notorious trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith, on rape charges in Florida in 1991. Mr Kennedy Smith was acquitted.

Ms Kennedy Townsend seems suited to the role. Among the nicknames attached to her by other family members, there is "Clean Kathleen", "the Nun" and – perhaps most tellingly – "the un-Kennedy". She promises a campaign that will stress fighting crime.

"I know what it's like to lose a loved one," she said in her speech, apparently referring to the assassination of her father during his presidential run in 1968.

As for so many other members of the dynasty, Ms Kennedy Townsend may always have been destined for office. The day after President Kennedy was assassinated, her father wrote her a note on White House paper. She was just 12. "As the oldest of the next generation you have a particular responsibility. Be kind to others and work for your country. Love, Daddy."

But it is a long time until election day in November. Mr Skakel, fighting to prove his innocence, will know his fate far sooner. And for now, it is the Skakel affair – not the political campaign in Maryland – that is gripping the nation's attention.