The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. Gary Wills. Open Road Media. June 2017. 346 pp. ASIN #: B072F1Q32V.
Americans who lived in the 1960s believed in the Camelot image of the Kennedy family. Garry Wills joins the troupe of political analysts who demythologize the Camelot image. This particular account is the reissue of his 1982 book; an introduction to the text is a look back from 2017, suggesting that we have something to compare with the current government. You decide whether there are parallel elements!
Power was the byword for the Kennedy family, beginning with Jack Kennedy’s father. Money and connections were the ingredients of success that bought political office, connections with famous people, and deals that turned out to have major and minor significant in American history. But those elements that guaranteed success also, according to Wills, encased the Kennedy family in a downward spiral that almost finished off the family until Teddy Kennedy finally got his act together to dismantle the destructive family patterns and dedicated the latter part of his life to “service” to the people he represented as a Senator.
While some may be intrigued by the aspects of sex, family, image, charisma, and power, others will be revolted. Everything is relative to one’s point of view and priorities. Ironically, every one of these aspects in which the book is outlined had potential for greatness. The “prisoner” aspect of sex, for example, shows Jack Kennedy, despite his serious physical ailments, as a nymphomaniac who seemed unable to control his need for conquering women sexually. Ignoring him was tantamount to a desperate campaign to win while the Kennedy women seemed to ignore Jack’s randy ways. The other fascinating aspect is Jack’s obsession with famous people like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, etc., etc. The trashier the gossip, the more Jack loved to hear and share it.
Bobby Kennedy seems to have been the exception as far as women but his notorious temper and exertion of power on domestic and international issues cannot be denied.
On and on it goes. American strength separated us from everyone else and allowed us to threaten and challenge from that position when the reality was we were no different than weaker nations (Russia, Cuba, etc.) in insisting on dominating international politics.
There are some interesting portions of this analysis but for those very familiar with the Kennedy era, there’s not much new to learn herein. The Kennedys certainly personalized the image of the American government, but Wills ultimately includes American citizens in his critique. For we love the power, glamor, naughtiness, and machinations as much as we say we decry them. The fact that Gary Wills’ book is being published anew says volumes about America’s fascination. The question we are left with is, “Do we see the immense consequences of such worship and enablement?” Reader, analyze and decide!