ALL THE PRESIDENT'S KIN by Barbara Kellerman


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The thesis, though not quite worth underlining, is okay: ""families of presidents have more impact now than in our earlier history."" The watershed probably was the Kennedys and TV (though Kellerman's evident unfamiliarity with the ""impact"" of the Roosevelt brood, and others, isn't reassuring)--along with the decline of the parties, the rise of primaries, the displacement of the cabinet by presidential advisers, even the ""changing culture."" But any book that has to make its points by repeatedly citing the marital troubles of Chip and Caron Carter can't be taken very seriously--and this, in substance, is a sociopolitical equivalent of the pop psychologies, filled out by assigning to recent presidential kin ""six functional roles."" Jackie Kennedy and Amy Carter are Decorations: ""Jackie's stunning looks and style were without exception a lovely sight to behold; and in Amy's salad days, one snapshot of this 'Becky Thatcher' was enough to launch a thousand smiles."" Ted Kennedy and the four Ford offspring are Extensions: i.e., stand-ins--with ""nothing to recommend them except their presidential ties."" (But: ""playing the role of Extension is an excellent entree to a political career of one's own."") Betty Ford and Billy Carter are Humanizers (""most useful . . . in the case of presidents and especially candidates who are relatively unknown and who are not themselves exciting personalities""); Joseph P. Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson are Helpmeets (""trusted and respected junior business partners""); Julie Nixon Eisenhower ""is the single case of a Moral Support""; and, at the top of the pinnacle, Robert Kennedy and Rosalynn Carter are Alter Egos (""the most precious asset of all""). But not every relative is an asset: Rosemary Kennedy, Sam Houston Johnson, Donald Nixon, and (the later) Billy Carter are Skeletons. The conclusions? Presidents, the public, the kinfolk gain and lose; more of same is likely. (Maureen Reagan is a prospective Humanizer, Michael an Extension; with Patti Davis and Ron, ""it is difficult to predict""). Trimmed down and livened up, this 300-page opus might have made a mildly intriguing magazine piece.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan