Ted Sorensen: Kennedy family's remarkable story

Roundup: Talking About History

[Ted Sorensen was special counsel and adviser to President John F. Kennedy.]

The death of John F. Kennedy's sister Eunice Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics for the developmentally challenged, has given rise to a wealth of news stories -- obituaries and otherwise -- about the recurring tragedies endured by what some call America's "royal family."

All of these comments are well intended but off the mark.

The Kennedys have been a remarkable family since its founding roughly a century ago by Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. But, its members have never asked for pity or privilege. Their history has emphasized more success than tragedy. Their love of family and country stood out during some of the most cynical and selfish periods in recent American history.

Like any large family, particularly one which deservedly remained in the public eye for many decades, a large number of afflictions and setbacks, also in the public eye, was unavoidable.

Nevertheless, the members of that family have never considered themselves "royal" or entitled to special privileges. We have no royalty in America, but ever since the Adams family sent several generations to public service in the earliest days of our nationhood, other families have demonstrated similar interests and commitments to public service.

The Kennedys were taught as children and genuinely believed that American citizenship was a special privilege and honor, in return for which every citizen had an obligation to serve and help the country. Even the youngest generation of Kennedys today acts not out of a sense of entitlement but a sense of commitment.

From the beginning, those members of the family who held or sought public office had the courage to take public positions on controversial issues, not always approved by the leaders of their party, church or respective constituencies. Nevertheless, they stood up and spoke out for what they believed was right, regardless of political and personal consequences. In short, they have had a proud tradition of becoming -- not merely writing about -- profiles in courage...
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