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The latest winner of the Kennedy Profile's in Courage Award is . . . Jack Murtha?

11:00 PM, Mar 19, 2006 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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IT IS AXIOMATIC that political families end up in time turning into their opposites, and quite often both eerie and sad. The Adamses began with John, blunt, out-spoken, middle-class, bursting with energy and fiercely ambitious, and ended, three generations and many drunks later, with Brooks and with Henry--who gave the words "effete snob" new meaning; loathed, feared, and detested the vibrant democracy John had created; and became obsessed with their own enervation and decadence. The public-spirited and over-achieving Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt produced Jimmy, Elliott, and FDR Jr., who specialized in producing embarrassments. There is Ron Reagan, the Republican Elliott Roosevelt. With all this in mind, it is none too surprising that the current iteration of Kennedys, in their long slide down from Camelot, have now embraced defeatist war critic John Murtha by giving him the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award--which transforms the spirit of the prize into something like the Joseph P. Kennedy medal for isolationism, appeasement, bad judgment, and very bad faith.

A history lesson might be in line here, as the Kennedy story is somewhat complex: Before Ted there was Jack, a defense hawk and war hero, before Jack, there was Joe. Joe, of course, was a whole other story, an isolationist and an appeaser, a fan and facilitator of the Munich agreement, a man who avoided service in World War I, and earned the scorn of the British during the Blitz by leaving the embassy to spend nights out of town (and the range of the Luftwaffe) during the later unpleasantness. Historians claim that by the start of the war, the elder Kennedy had so damaged the family name that only the wartime heroics of his two older sons made it once again viable. In his first speech as a congressman, in l947, Jack Kennedy ripped into the Munich agreement as a catastrophic mistake that must not be repeated, and spent his political life preaching Churchillian vigilance.

As a state of mind, Camelot began in August, l943, with Jack's swim into Blackett Strait to try to get help for his wounded compatriots, and ended in July, l969, with Ted's swim from Chappaquiddick to Edgartown, leaving his brother's assistant to die in his car. In the public assessment of the Kennedy legacy, Jack has always been bracketed by his father and brother, with courage and sacrifice in a death struggle with cowardice and self-preservation. The embrace of Murtha tips the balance all the more in the appeasement direction, especially as Murtha lacks so completely the courage criteria that JFK set up in his book.

In the press release from the Kennedy Library, Murtha is praised for "the difficult and courageous decision of conscience . . . when he reversed his support for the Iraq war . . . [which] made him the target of withering political attacks. "Huh? In the first place, Murtha had never supported the war in Iraq; and the attacks on him were no more "withering" than what passes for normal in current political discourse; and in most instances were softened with lavish praise for his Vietnam tours of duty. In his book, Jack Kennedy wrote of famous men who put big careers in jeopardy, and frequently suffered "the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men." Before his recent outspokenness, Murtha was wholly unknown to most of the public. In speaking out against the war, he has risked and lost nothing. Instead, he has become a cult hero and media darling who is now in no danger of losing his seat.

IF MURTHA has nothing in common with John Kennedy, or with his subjects, he has a great deal in common with Joe and Ted Kennedy, at least when it comes to demoralizing people in battle. On March l5th, Laura Ingraham read on her radio program a letter to Murtha from Lt. Col. Dave Rockwell, a 60-year-old former paratrooper who volunteered to serve in Iraq. "I cannot tell you the overall sense of discouragement, sense of betrayal and the feeling that few appreciate our efforts your comments have created," Rockwell wrote to Murtha from Iraq. "We believe it is the correct fight, and we believe we are winning. . . . I enjoy service with these outstanding officers . . . they are dedicated to winning and I believe they are winning. It is obvious to this 'old paratrooper' that your comments have hurt their morale and will eventually impact negatively on their efforts here."