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The Kennedy Family and American Political Lore

Judy Woodruff speaks with historians Richard Norton Smith and Michael Beschloss about the life and times of America's most famous political dynasty.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Thousands of people have waited in line today outside the Kennedy Library for the chance to see the senator's casket. And just a short while ago, the public viewing inside began.

    A contingent of family, friends, and former staffers are sitting vigil in one-hour shifts, and the viewing will continue this evening and tomorrow during the day.

    Now, a look back at the life and times of the legendary political family, and to Judy Woodruff.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And joining us now to reflect on the history of that renowned political family are two of our NewsHour regulars: Richard Norton Smith, scholar-in-residence at George Mason University; and presidential historian Michael Beschloss, he joins us from Boston.

    It's good to have you both back.

    Richard, what is it about the Kennedy family? I mean, there are other families of great wealth, families that have been into politics, but this one was different.

  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University:

    This one was different. It depends on which Kennedy family you're talking about, whether you're talking about the Kennedys who are enormously important, serious legislators, as was the case with Senator Kennedy, or if you're talking about the Kennedys in the tabloids.

    If you think of the Adamses, or the Tafts, you know, or the Bushes, how many books have been written about those families? How many books have been written about the Kennedys? In part, we grew up with this family. You know, Joe Kennedy was not above, in effect, exploiting his children in the media. His son, John, famously, when Jackie was out of town, had pictures taken of John-John under that desk. That's part of our growing up.

    And the history, too, our lives intersected. Everyone remembers the Cuban missile crisis. Everyone remembers John F. Kennedy's assassination. These are common points of reference.

    So I think, in part because of television, in part because of the drama, in part because of the melodrama, we have bonds to this family that are unique in American history.

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