How I Became a Caroline Kennedy Democrat Print
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 02 January 2009

Have you ever seen the footage of Caroline Kennedy christening her daddy's ship, the USS John F. Kennedy? The still photo is iconic, but the footage is something else entirely, at least it was to my eleven-year-old heart. I saw it live: Saturday morning, May 27, 1967, sitting in the barber chair at the Forum Shopping Center in Columbia, Missouri; feet up on the foot rest, bike leaning against the window outside. I’m not getting a haircut, just killing time with my friends, dirty-neck little town kids. The black-and-white TV is on. Our attention is drawn to a pretty girl stepping onto a platform. She’s about my age. The sunlight illuminates her pretty white dress. There is a white bow in her hair. She raises a heavy bottle and smashes it against the bow of the ship. Champagne sprays gloriously all over her. Oh my brothers, at that moment I became a Caroline Kennedy Democrat.

I dreamt of that little girl from then on. I think it was then that the idea of moving to the East Coast from Missouri entered my mind. I never thought of living anywhere else besides where I live now. I would go east and meet Caroline and, I dunno, become a Kennedy. My own personal search for Camelot began.

In high school I ran for student council vice-president and gave a speech that was an almost exact duplicate of Bobby Kennedy’s presidential announcement speech. I, too, ran “not merely to oppose any man but to propose new policies.” I won.

A few years later I was vice-president of the student body at the University of Missouri and got a call from a guy named Ralph Murphine who said he worked for Senator Edward Kennedy and would I help him advance a visit the senator was making to Missouri, ostensibly to speak against Missouri’s right-to-work law. Kennedy was then sniffing around about running against Jimmy Carter in the primaries. Pure Heaven. Caroline was coming closer still.

I got together a marching band. I got a huge number of students involved. We passed out literature about this rare event. Murphine asked me to join the party meeting Kennedy at the airport. I remember him leaning in and gripping my hand; repeating my name, “Austin.” On the way in from the airport Murphine asked me to make some remarks at the rally. I hastily scribbled some notes on an envelope. I recall I got some laughs from the labor group about how the other side paid their volunteers but that we worked for free. Afterwards the Missouri Secretary of State shook my hand and said, “good speech, kid.”

Murphine asked me what I was going to do after graduation. On retainer with the Kennedys, Murphine worked for an old-time political consultant named Matt Rees who ran the crucial West Virginia primary for President Kennedy in 1960. I told Murphine I was looking at politics in D.C. He said to look him up and he would give me a job. Oh Caroline!

Later that summer I interned in the Capitol Hill office of Harold Volkmer from Missouri’s 9th District and I became the exclusive distributor of Kennedy for President buttons. Was I ever in the tank. I was even a Chappaquiddick apologist: “whaddya mean, he dove repeatedly to rescue her.” Teddy might have been the runt of the litter but until the next generation he was all we had.

I graduated from college, loaded up my car and drove thirteen hours straight to Washington, D.C., and went almost immediately to the offices of Ralph Murhpine who offered me the job. He wanted me to pack back up and go to Idaho. I couldn’t see that and turned him down and my life took another direction. I abandoned politics for magazine publishing. I voted for Reagan. I became a Catholic, but even there I was moving away from Caroline and her family's abortion-cum-gay marriage Catholicism.

Caroline went to law school, served on charitable boards, raised money for the New York schools, and wrote a couple of light-weight books. She eventually married a guy named Ed Schlossberg who I always thought was a great choice. His identity was independently substantial, wholly outside of politics. What a great life Caroline had. She should have been content with all that. She should have remained an icon. Now with her Senate bid, she is revealed as at least as inarticulate as her uncle Teddy and perhaps even as dim as her brother was rumored to be. False gods should never venture too close to their people, lest we know.

In the end, the closest I ever came to Caroline was on a small plane headed to Martha’s Vineyard in the spring of 1985. She and her husband sat right in front of my girlfriend and me. I peaked through the seats. Caroline was reading a People magazine story about the sorry end of her aunt’s former husband, actor Peter Lawford, who ended his days addicted to cocaine and a creepy little device called the Accujack. Such are the lives of those who fly too close to the sun. Did I get lucky or what?

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

Other Articles By This Author