In the tradition of the works of Robert Caro and Taylor Branch, Catching the Wind is the first volume of Neal Gabler’s magisterial two-volume biography of Edward Kennedy. It is at once a human drama, a history of American politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and a study of political morality and the role it played in the tortuous course of liberalism.
Though he is often portrayed as a reckless hedonist who rode his father’s fortune and his brothers’ coattails to a Senate seat at the age of thirty, the Ted Kennedy in Catching the Wind is one the public seldom saw—a man both racked by and driven by insecurity, a man so doubtful of himself that he sinned in order to be redeemed. The last and by most contemporary accounts the least of the Kennedys, a lightweight. He lived an agonizing childhood, being shuffled from school to school at his mother’s whim, suffering numerous humiliations—including self-inflicted ones—and being pressed to rise to his brothers’ level. He entered the Senate with his colleagues’ lowest expectations, a show horse, not a workhorse, but he used his “ninth-child’s talent” of deference to and comity with his Senate elders to become a promising legislator. And with the deaths of his brothers John and Robert, he was compelled to become something more: the custodian of their political mission.
In Catching the Wind, Kennedy, using his late brothers’ moral authority, becomes a moving force in the great “liberal hour,” which sees the passage of the anti-poverty program and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Then, with the election of Richard Nixon, he becomes the leading voice of liberalism itself at a time when its power is waning: a “shadow president,” challenging Nixon to keep the American promise to the marginalized, while Nixon lives in terror of a Kennedy restoration. Catching the Wind also shows how Kennedy’s moral authority is eroded by the fatal auto accident on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, dealing a blow not just to Kennedy but to liberalism.
In this sweeping biography, Gabler tells a story that is Shakespearean in its dimensions: the story of a star-crossed figure who rises above his seeming limitations and the tragedy that envelopes him to change the face of America.
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He was the youngest, and from that nearly everything in his life would follow. And not only was he the youngest, he was also unexpected—an accident. Beginning in 1915, with the birth of Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr., Kennedy children arrived at one- or two-year intervals for the next ten years and six more babies. Rose Kennedy said that after the birth of Robert Francis Kennedy in 1925, her friends “gently chided” her against having any more, and she seemed to agree. But three years later, Jean Kennedy arrived, which, Rose said, made her even more “skittish” about her passel of children. After Jean’s birth, Joseph Sr., apparently anticipating no more offspring, named the family yacht the Ten of Us, and he warned his wife that if she had another child, he would give her not the customary trip to Europe that had followed each birth but a black eye. But in February 1932—February 22, 1932, Washington’s birthday—almost four years to the day of Jean Kennedy’s birth, Edward Moore Kennedy arrived to forty-one-year-old Rose Kennedy, not only the youngest, not only unexpected, but an afterthought.
And more than an afterthought. One Kennedy biographer surmised that he was reparation for Kennedy’s torrid affair with the film star Gloria Swanson, whose career Kennedy had guided—an amends to his wife after the affair had ended. By that time, Joseph and Rose were intimate only infrequently, by most accounts, but the couple rendezvoused in the spring of 1931 at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, after Joseph’s four-month winter vacation at Palm Beach, Florida, and spent a few days together before Joseph left alone for New York. Edward was born nine months later. Despite her husband’s threat, Rose still got her European trip shortly after the birth.
For the youngest, the circumstances surrounding the birth were an augury both of the family traditions to which he would be obligated and of the negligence with which he would often be treated. Though the family lived in Bronxville, New York, at the time, Rose insisted he be born at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts, so he could be delivered by Dr. Frederick Good, who had delivered each of his siblings. She recuperated in Dorchester for two weeks, near her parents, since Joseph hadn’t attended the birth or provided any emotional support but instead had retreated once again to Palm Beach. “There was no need keeping Joe around in the winter, not in the middle of February for a baby,” Rose later told her ghostwriter, with a certain dismissiveness toward her new child. But she said that her husband had meals sent to her from the Ritz Hotel via taxi because “he felt so sorry for me being in a hospital.”
And if the baby was an afterthought, so too was his name. Edward Moore was a family retainer, a onetime secretary to Rose’s father, John Fitzgerald, when Fitzgerald was mayor of Boston, which is when Joseph Kennedy met Moore back in 1912. Moore continued in the position under mayors James Michael Curley and Andrew James Peters, before accepting a job with Joseph Kennedy as his counselor, after which, according to historian and Kennedy family chronicler Doris Kearns Goodwin, “the bond between the two men proved inseparable.” But “counselor” may have been both too august and too limited a word for what Moore did for Joe Kennedy. “Eddie Moore became his closest friend,” Rose would say of Moore’s relationship to her husband, “someone he trusted implicitly in every way and in all circumstances. His wife, Mary, became an equally great friend, confidante, and unfailing support for me.” So close were the Kennedys and the Moores that Joe sold them his Brookline, Massachusetts, house on Beals Street in March 1920, which had the advantage of bringing them from Charlestown, where they had lived with Mary Moore’s mother, to just around the corner from the Kennedys’ new house, where they could be on call in case Joe needed them.
Still, for all the talk of friendship, the relationship was hardly one of equals. Edward Moore served Joseph Kennedy. He was, as Time magazine put it, “nurse, comforter, stooge, package-bearer, adviser, who played games with Joe and the children, bought neckties and bonds for Joe, opened doors, wrote letters, investigated investments, saw to it Joe wore his rubbers.” One Kennedy biographer called him a “valet,” another a “flunky.” One of Joseph Kennedy’s granddaughters said that the childless Moore’s duties included being an “occasional babysitter.” A more important duty was to provide cover for Joe Kennedy. According to Joseph Kennedy biographer David Nasaw, Kennedy and Moore set up a real estate company, Fenway Building Trust, after World War I, in which Joe owned 98 percent of the shares but Moore was assigned the task of convincing two women to sell their real estate to the company for notes that were then used to buy more real estate. Another biographer said Kennedy used Moore’s name to hide Wall Street transactions with which he didn’t want to be publicly associated.
And Kennedy used Moore as a cover in other ways. He was a beard for Kennedy, so that even Rose Kennedy said Joe told her “that he kept Eddie around when he was signing contracts with some of these ‘dames,’ as he used to say. And then he’d [Joe], you know, get framed and get into difficulties.” And if Edward Moore was a beard, he was a procurer for Kennedy and the Kennedy sons too. As a Harvard student, John Kennedy had his father’s “administrator”—it could only have been Moore—find girls for him and five friends for a bacchanal at Cape Cod, after which John fretted over whether or not he had gotten the “clap.”
But Joe Kennedy enjoyed Moore not just for his service, which was slavish, or his loyalty, which was total, but for his sociability. “Irish as a clay pipe,” Time wrote of him, and Edward Kennedy himself would say that his father “cherished Eddie’s convivial soul.” During a 1932 train tour in support of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential candidacy, a trip on which Moore accompanied Kennedy, Roosevelt adviser Raymond Moley remarked on Moore’s “infinite capacity to make friends,” though vaudevillian Eddie Dowling, who was on the same tour, thought the amiability was tempered by his servility. “He never stopped telling me, and anybody else that would listen, about the greatness of Joseph P. Kennedy.”
The idea that Kennedy and Moore were inseparable was less figurative than literal. Joe’s “shadow,” Gloria Swanson called him. Moore was with him in Boston at the beginning, in New York when Kennedy moved there for business, in Hollywood when Kennedy began assaying the movies. And when Roosevelt won the election and named Kennedy the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Moore accompanied him to Washington, where they lived together on a 125-acre estate in Rockville, Maryland. They were still living there when Kennedy became head of the Maritime Commission, and he and Moore spent two and a half months working with a former Harvard classmate of Kennedy’s named John Burns, who had become a judge, to devise the commission’s subsidy structure. Moore was with Kennedy when Kennedy became the United States ambassador to England, and they sailed there together; with him when Kennedy returned to America; and with him nearly every day thereafter, until Moore was felled by a fatal illness in 1952.
Edward Kennedy would later say he found it “endearing” that his father had named him for his friend, even as he’d named his first son, Joseph, after himself and his second son, John Fitzgerald, after Rose’s father, and Edward Kennedy would talk proudly about how Moore was his father’s “go-to guy.” But for all his intimacy with the Kennedy family, Edward Moore was still a retainer, and for Joseph Kennedy to name his youngest son after him—a man of no great distinction, a man whose chief virtue was his undying loyalty to his boss—as seemingly a small reward for Moore’s service was itself a harbinger of Edward Moore Kennedy’s status in the family.
If Edward Moore Kennedy was the youngest of the Kennedy children, he was also the least.
Table of Contents
Introduction: They Came xiii
1 The Youngest 3
2 The Least 54
3 The Succession 94
4 "If His Name Was Edward Moore…" 143
5 The Lowest Expectations 179
6 "Do a Little Suffering" 228
7 "A Heightened Sense of Purpose" 251
8 A Dying Wind 307
9 All Hell Fell 355
10 A Fallen Standard 399
11 A Shadow President 440
12 "The Wrong Side of Destiny" 471
13 Starting from Scratch 519
14 "People Do Not Want to Be Improved" 573
15 Awesome Power with No Discipline" 613
16 S.3 641
17 "Our Long National Nightmare Is Over" 690