A Conversation in Hell
New York Post
―July 21, 1999
JOE! Joe Kennedy! Come on in. Nice to see you. Are you enjoying the air conditioning? I know it gets pretty hot out there.
Where are you these days, in the eighth circle or the ninth? Kind of a tough choice where you’re concerned. After all, the eighth circle is for the fraudulent and the ninth for the treacherous. You sure were fraudulent when you had Mayor Daley fix the 1960 presidential election for your son Jack, weren’t you? And you were pretty treacherous most of your life, what with your compulsive philandering and double-dealing.
But listen, that’s what I love about you. I can’t tell you how it filled me with pride just to know you back when you were America’s ambassador to England, saying all those nice things about Hitler, doing everything you could to prevent Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany. Thousands of Jews died because of you. That was quite a demonic performance!
I always knew you had it in you. I don’t remember a soul I was happier to procure when you called on me back in, what, in 1912? You knew exactly what you wanted. You wanted wealth, fame and power, and you wanted it to stretch through the generations . You wanted to be the creator of a dynasty what would rule America..
It did my ancient heart a bit of good to hear just how ruthless you could be. And you were such a tough negotiator it was fun doing business with you.
It seemed like you’d thought of everything. You wanted access to power and for you that meant marrying the daughter of the mayor of Boston. Done; you and Rose Fitzgerald were joined two years later. You wanted to remain attractive and alluring to the world’s most glamorous women. Done; you became a motion picture executive and had affairs with Gloria Swanson and many other stars and starlets.
You wanted wealth beyond the wildest dreams of any other Irish Bostonian. Done; you were a millionaire many times over, and lost none of it when the Great Depression hit. You wanted social position. Done; you were given the most glamorous job in government at the time ― Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
And you wanted your son to president. Done as well
You dotted the “i”s, you crossed the “t”s, you did everything in your power to maximize your part of the deal and minimize mine. Like all mortals whose most distinictive quality is their unbounded sense of self, you believed your soul was so valuable that it was worth the exchange.
You got everything you wanted. But when a I make a deal for a soul like yours ― so unyielding in it sense of entitlement, so sure that the world should bow before it, so damned tough ― its raw to me, like uncooked meat. I need to season it, to pound on it a bit so that it becomes tender, brown it a bit on the fire before I am ready to put it in the infernal oven.
So if I’d let that son of yours that you wanted to become president make it to the White House, it would have meant that the supper I intended to make of your soul indigestible. He simply had to go
And that hurt, didn’t it, Joe, when your namesake’s plane went down in World War II?
You said so little about your daughters in contract that I felt free to toy with them a little. I made poor Rosemary a little slow ― but for Pete’s sake, you didn’t have to lobotomize her Joe! That was all your doing! And you seemed to be getting over young Joe’s death so well that I felt I needed to remind you of it by sending your daughter Kathleen down in another plane crash a few years later.
Oh, this trouble hurt. But it infuriated you too, because you thought I had reneged on the deal! Remember that conversation, right there on the beach in Hyannis Port? I reminded you there was Jack, beautiful Jack, the one you rode so hard. He was so like you, so hungry for Hollywood beauty, so driven ― wouldn’t it be even sweeter if it were Jack?
You were so triumphant with Jack’s victory and all that I tried to let you know that things weren’t going to work out like you planned again. You had a grandson born in the White House in August 1963, remember? Little Patrick? I took him after two days, just to get you prepared for November 22.
I said I‘d make Jack president. I didn’t say he would finish out his term. And I didn’t say you’d get another. That was your mistake, trying again with Bobby.
That was a violation of the contract. You only got one.
And you didn’t listen, you just wouldn’t listen, you were still intent on the idea that Teddy might do it ― Teddy, the least of your boys. But I have news for you. That Chappaquiddick business? He called on me to save him from a manslaughter charge. He’ll be keeping you company when his time is up.
Your time was up, wasn’t it, after Chappaquiddick. You died a few months later, came down here. But you know what? Your soul just wasn’t done yet. You were still a little too tough.
So every time you think the deal is done, every time you think your family is on it s way back to glory, I just have to do something. Like I did this weekend, with your grandson John.
You understand, don’t you, Joe? It’s because I’m hungry. And when I’m hungry, Joe, the ends justify the means. See why we’re so alike?
Yes. Oh, yes. I think you’re ready now.
You can e-mail comments to John Podhoretz at firstname.lastname@example.org.