“It came on when I was 43,” Kennedy said. “I used to have a really strong speaking voice. I’d talk to large rooms without a microphone.” Now he can’t even bear to listen to his Air America radio show, “Ring of Fire,” catching the program only once, “by accident, somewhere out in Alaska.”
Still, it makes you wonder exactly what kind of politician Bobby Jr., the most accomplished Kennedy of his generation, would be.
“I wouldn’t be a reliably liberal senator,” says Kennedy. “My father was never a liberal. He was a devout Catholic with an open mind.” He says Reagan and Bush have completely dekiltered terms like right and left to the point where he was happy to write a glowing introduction to the new edition of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, not exactly a Kennedy kind of gig. “Goldwater hated those corporate types, thought they were antithetical to individual rights,” Kennedy said, claiming he’s “more conservative, in the traditional sense” than George Bush and his Gitmo crew ever were.
In the end, Kennedy says, his family tradition of public service tells him to “seek a place where I feel I can do the most good … Does that mean I’m not supposed to be satisfied unless I’m president? I don’t think so. I tell people my hero is Saint Francis, because he understood how God communicates to us most forcefully through nature and that makes it a sin to destroy those things. I’m not trying to pretend I’m not who I am. I understand the gift I’ve been given, being in this family. I also know the losses. Limitations you didn’t count on. It makes you want to concentrate on what you think is really important, what goes on beyond us, the long horizon.”
Bobby Kennedy Jr. is acting as a Kennedy man-of-myth is supposed to act. He’s charging up and down a field of play, leading the pack. But this is not the hallowed touch-football field of the famous compound where his father supposedly made up for being the scrawniest of the brood through sheer viciousness. This is a parent-student field-hockey match at Kennedy’s 11-year-old daughter Kyra’s school in Greenwich, and Bobby is sloshing across the muddy pitch swatting a ball with a little curved stick. After Kennedy scores his second goal, one of Kyra’s teammates asks her, “That your dad?” Kyra nods. Yeah, that’s him.
After the game, someone tells Kennedy, “You were dominant.”
“Well, I was playing against 9-year-old girls,” Kennedy returns, grass stains down the side of his chinos.
It is a clear winter’s day, and it would be hard to imagine a better place to spend the time than Robert Kennedy Jr.’s lovely home in Bedford, New York. Set on eleven wooded acres, with its own skating pond, the large Colonial house has long been in the family. On the walls are the framed autographs of 41 of the 42 men to serve as president of the United States.
“I’ve got them all except George Washington, which was stolen,” Kennedy says, still pissed about the theft. Showing true collector pride at snagging the scrawl of William Henry Harrison, in office only a month, Kennedy says his top two favorite presidents are, not unpredictably, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. JFK was a big champion of Grover Cleveland, for reasons Bobby Jr. has yet to understand.
He’s an ever-ready raconteur of the apocalyptic higher ground.
“This is my dictator wall,” Kennedy announces. Hanging there are the autographs of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Nixon’s signature appears at the bottom of a letter reading, “Dear Robert: I have just learned from my daughter Julie that you do not have my autograph in personal collection so I am enclosing this one … While your father and I were opponents I always considered him one of our ablest political leaders … Richard Nixon.”
The Kennedy home is a busy place. Kennedy and his wife, Mary Richardson, operate a seemingly unending shuttle, getting Kyra and her three brothers—Conor, 12; Finn, 9; and the 5-year-old Aiden Vieques (Kennedy was in jail for protesting Navy bombing on the island when the boy was born)—to school functions and ice-hockey games. Hockey is the winter game of choice in the Kennedy household. Both Conor, a reedy, cerebral stickhandler, and the boisterous Finn, often seen making his way around the house balancing on his hands, are budding stars, their father says. Holiday time was particularly hectic. Kennedy, who has two other children, Robert III and Kathleen, from his earlier marriage to Emily Black, is godfather to sixteen more. They all needed presents, too.
“When I was growing up, my brothers and sisters were my friends,” Kennedy says. “I didn’t have that much to do with people outside of our household. My kids don’t have that sort of life; things have changed.” Still, he keeps them close. A serious Catholic like his father, Kennedy takes his children to church every Sunday. Grace is always said before dinner. Before bed, the family prays together. Skulking like a voyeur, you know you are seeing a less ad hoc way of existence than the world you, or your children, grew up in. That rituals are being observed.