The Struggle Over The Kennedys' FutureS

Caroline Kennedy made it official, confirming she would no longer seek a U.S. senate seat "for personal reasons." Those personal reasons likely have a lot to do with Teddy Kennedy.

Caroline Kennedy told associates her decision was related to uncle Ted's illness, according to the Times, which sounded at first, to us and others, like an implausible excuse. Ted Kennedy's brain tumor has been a serious concern since the summer, well before Caroline was in contention for Hillary Clinton's senate seat.

But then came the evidence that Ted Kennedy and his associates were fighting Caroline's decision. After the New York Post, Times and the Associated Press reported Caroline was withdrawing her name from Gov. David Paterson's consideration, indignant denials emerged from Washington, DC, where uncle Ted is the go-to source for all things Kennedy.

NBC News' David Gregory, of the DC bureau's Meet the Press, called into Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show to say he'd heard the rumors were false. And the Washington Post quoted "Kennedy family confidants angrily dismissing" the reports. Even AP backtracked, clarifying that after "wavering briefly," Kennedy had "renewed her determination Wednesday to win appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by her slain uncle, Bobby Kennedy."

Things didn't turn out that way. But the back and forth between New York and DC media was easy to mistake for a surrogate to a tug-of-war between Caroline Kennedy and her uncle.

If Caroline Kennedy purportedly told friends she quit over concerns for her uncle's health, Ted seems to have not wanted her to yield to those worries.

And yet he couldn't stop her. She was deeply anxious. And why shouldn't she be? Were Ted Kennedy to soon die, she would will be left to govern without him.

That scenario seemed more likely Kennedy's seizure at Barack Obama's inauguration. When the senator spoke at the Democratic National Convention, he said he wanted to pass the torch to Barack Obama and "a new generation of Americans." The ailing senator made it, but the inaugural incident would have raised the question, particularly among those who love him most, of whether, having done so, he was preparing to say goodbye.

Ted Kennedy would not be content merely to see Obama as president. What of the Kennedy family legacy? What of his own — his initiatives, his allies, his staff? The dream of an eternal Kennedy dynasty is a lot to place on the shoulders of a basically apolitical woman with just a couple of years of government leadership under her belt, inside a municipal bureaucracy at that. And yet Caroline is the best-qualified remaining member of the clan to keep the family name continuously present in the senate — and far preferable to Andrew Cuomo, whose messy divorce from Kerry Kennedy was laced with accusations of infidelity and did not endear him to Ted.

The senator, one might reasonably surmise, must have pushed Caroline hard, right up to the end. But this was one affair he could not put in order.