Joe Dennehy/The Boston Globe/File 1976
You can easily imagine that Capitol Hill became an unimaginably lonely place for Patrick Kennedy when he returned to the United States Congress in September and his legendary father was no longer around.
Never again would the chronically tormented son hear his old manís reassuring voice boom through the marble halls, no more would he slip into his fatherís hideaway office to seek advice, no more late-night dinners in which theyíd replay the intricacies of a conference hearing or a committee vote.
Itís not merely coincidence that the moment that Patrick Kennedy inherited the top position in the familyís political dynasty was also the moment that it didnít seem worth having any more Ė not without his father around, not with the issues he was facing.
And yet, his decision not to run for reelection this November goes beyond that. Over the last two years, he witnessed his fatherís mortality, he took stock of his own work representing Rhode Island in Congress, and heís decided that even for a Kennedy, even for Ted Kennedyís son, there has to be something more.
Patrick Kennedy began discussing his possible departure from Congress with his father last summer, during time together aboard the Mya on Nantucket Sound, according to people with direct knowledge. His ailing father, the consummate legislator and politician, looked beyond his own lifetime in the Senate and understood.
There were things Patrick wanted to do with his life, and in truth, things he wanted to leave behind. He wanted to devote himself to a single issue Ė mental health. He wanted to leave behind the glare, the grinding pressure, and the larger burden of a Kennedy on Capitol Hill.
Patrick Kennedyís demons go beyond drug and alcohol addiction to deeper matters of the mind; there are very few people who understand his daily struggle, including, heís acknowledged, his own father, though the elder began to appreciate his sonís obstacles as time went on.
Patrick is not and never will be a natural politician or the typical Kennedy. In a family of daredevil skiers and expert sailors, athletes and entrepreneurs, he reveals fragility rather than exudes vitality. He often speaks too much when he should say very little, and says too little when he should speak up. He should have said absolutely nothing recently about the ascension of Scott Brown.
He can, at times, be difficult to like, particularly when he trashes a rental yacht or shoves an airport security guard. His family name has given him every possible political advantage, and his family fortune will give him security for the rest of his life.
Yet, thereís an openness to him, a rawness, thatís unusual for anyone on such a public stage. In every one of his accomplishments Ė successful elections, the respect of his colleagues in the House, driving signature legislation like the mental health parity Ė he has overcome unseen obstacles. In all of that, there is something worthy of respect.
Analysts and critics are busy hashing over the reasons for Kennedyís decision to leave elective office, pointing to his declining poll numbers, a fickle electorate, and his public fight with the Catholic Church in Rhode Island. What they donít take into account is that life, even such a public life, and especially a troubled life, has many more dimensions.
In a series of poignant interviews with reporter Mark Arsenault for Rhode Island Monthly in December and January, Kennedy telegraphed his decision not to run, got choked up talking about a stretch of the summer spent with his dying father, and said there needed to be more than a litany of legislation. Itís something heís been thinking for nearly two years now, crystallized by his fatherís death.
Heíll go off in search of that now, in constantly choppy waters, without the compass that his father provided in good times and in bad. No longer is he Ted Kennedyís kid, but now a Kennedy on his own.
McGrory is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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