Forty years later, it still makes you cry. Bobby Kennedy Jr. says, “We brought my father back from Los Angeles to New York and waked him at St. Patrick’s,” standing in front of 100 brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews — three busloads of Kennedys! — and even though they’re all here for a celebration, the moment is inescapably wrenching. This morning, RFK Jr. was onstage in a park in Astoria beneath one of the footings of the Triborough Bridge; above him and the roadway flapped an enormous blue banner with a photograph of his father and the new name of the span, the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. The son’s moving and hopeful speech ended with an obvious metaphor — that the bridge connects diverse peoples just as his father’s political career did. But the presence of Bill Clinton and Caroline Kennedy, sitting behind Bobby but far apart from one another, sparked a different and just as vivid image: That of a twisting, crisscrossing, never-ending Kennedy-Clinton highway.
Running for president, Bill had milked his adolescent meeting with JFK for all it was worth; as president, he reveled in his visits to the Kennedys’ place in Hyannisport. But the chances of the Clintons establishing the next Democratic White House dynasty took a major blow during the primaries, when Caroline and her uncle Ted endorsed Barack Obama. Ted Kennedy’s decision, in particular, was provoked by his anger at Bill Clinton. Two weeks ago, Ted thwarted Hillary yet again, squashing her attempt to go around him and set up her own Senate health-care subcommittee.
Yet the Kennedys may end up having done Hillary a favor. The push for universal health care is likely to get sidetracked by general economic triage. Without Ted’s block, Hillary would have been less available for secretary of State — a job she may turn out to be even better suited for than the presidency, because she’s more popular and less polarizing overseas, and because she has proven effective as part of a team. This morning Bill was eloquent in his praise of RFK, but uncharacteristically brief when reporters shouted questions about Hillary’s next move. “It’s up to them,” Bill said. But at some point he may want to thank the Kennedys.