David Axelrod’s fine and quite well-written new political memoir entitled `Believer: My Forty Years In Politics’ has some interesting insights on Patrick Kennedy’s early career, in which Axelrod had a role.
In 1994, Axelrod, who would later become Barack Obama’s political consigliere, was the media consultant for Kennedy’s first campaign for Congress in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. Kennedy, just 26, had served five years in the RI House of Representatives as a rep from Providence’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
Axelrod recalls the young Kennedy as a ``tragic figure.’’
``Kennedy, son of Ted, was seeking a seat in Congress…Patrick had already served five years in the Rhode Island legislature, helped by his famous name,’’ writes Axelrod. ``The sweet anxiety-ridden young Kennedy, however, had inherited little of the family’s trademark charisma or campaign skills.’’
Axelrod recalls that ` `Patrick, who struggled with addiction as a teenager and would again, so wanted to please his dad, but lived in constant fear of disappointing him.’’
At one point Kennedy said, ``We have to win this campaign,’’ recalls Axelrod. Axelrod says that Kennedy spent much of the campaign ``figuratively curled up in a fetal position.’’
``In my family, you don’t lose,’’ Kennedy told Axelrod. Axelrod says he found that ``curious, because his dad had in 1980. (Losing the Democratic presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter). Propelled by the family legend, Patrick was also a prisoner of it.’’
Axelrod says that Kennedy defeated what he calls a ``strong Republican opponent’’ (Dr. Kevin Vigilante, an AIDS physician and very smart fellow) with the help of a ``devastating negative ad.’’
``Patrick served for 16 years, a tenure marked by real accomplishment and periodic breakdowns,’’ writes Axelrod. ``Yet shortly after his father died, he left Congress and politics, settled down, had a family, and lived a much happier life as an advocate for the mentally ill.’’