Update: "I warned you!" Dr. Lant's dire admonitions on the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate were right on the money.
About six years ago, at the time of the ground breaking, I wrote the article that follows. It presented a number of serious objections to what the trustees were doing to revive the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. It was a bad idea at a bad place and badly conceived, and should never have been started, much less advanced.
But because the late senator Edward Kennedy wanted this institute, the trustees went ahead. Now the chickens are surely coming home to roost.
A report on this matter has just been released by Michael Levenson of The Boston Globe. Its primary finding is that less than 50% of the visitors they expected, and whose revenues they counted on, have visited the institute.
62,000 came, 150,000 were planned on and expected. This is the basis for a mammoth white elephant and continuing shocks about a project which should never have been placed in Massachusetts at all, much less in the backwater of Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Reading Levenson's article gives one a slightly sick feeling. For example, Jean F. MacCormack, president of the institute, is quoted as saying they are pleased with the number of visitors. How could she possibly be "pleased" when only 50% of the expected visitors have come?
Fatuous sentiments like this dot the report. No one wants to say what they see... a catastrophic volume of visitors, an institution which should never have been contemplated, much less advanced, but for the huge federal donation of $38,000,000. And nothing but platitudes and deceit in its future.
This institute proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Kennedys have sufficient influence to push an institution that is wrong in every particular. They know that it was positioned in the wrong place. They know that it is off the beaten path of other Boston cultural institutions. They know that when the money is gone the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration, will not contribute another cent, and rightly so.
It seems to me that otherwise conscientious rational people dilute their common sense with the so called "magic of Camelot". But this magic, if it exists at all, will suffer a grave outcome if this project is not dealt with in a sensible way as quickly as possible. Let us extend to the trustees in the administration of the institute this suggestion. Take two years... take three... and do everything within your power to bring attendance to the 150,000 per year you originally projected. If the attendance drops below the current figure of 62,000, it should be construed as sufficient evidence for immediate closure. If however attendance increases in a reasonable and positive fashion, let us see that as an opportunity to grow further.
I do not, however, feel comfortable in the institute's ability to raise further funds, and a substantially increased number of visitors. And let me say this, and say it so that all may see its clarity: just because the name Kennedy is placed on an institution is no good reason in and of itself for foisting this white elephant or any other Kennedy pachyderms on the public. If we needed a museum at all about the government, it should have focused on the Congress of the United States, House and Senate, and in a way that these institutions were explained, and not simply glorified by the name Kennedy.
I shall follow this matter further, and I shall await constructive debate in the creation of an institution that benefits the nation and the people of the Great Republic.
Now read the article that follows. It is not just prescience, it is common sense. And let us begin to focus on an institution based in Washington D.C. that explains our government by the people, for the people, to the people. That institution is long overdue.
Wrong right from the start. Problems, muddle, confusion, embarrassment at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. You've got to wonder whether the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his second wife Victoria Reggie ever bothered to read the Constitution of these United States before advancing what the Senator saw as his 'legacy," the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Article 1 Section 1 of the most important and influential document of the Great Republic reads thus:
"All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."
In crystal clear language, the Constitution lays out what legislative entities there will be, what powers they shall possess, how many representatives there will be in a state, who is eligible to serve, what officers there will be, how they are chosen, etc.
At no time does the Constitution state or imply that one branch shall be considered superior to the other. Instead, the Constitution lucidly makes the point that the two branches of Congress are equal.
This being the case, any discussion of the Congress, its history, and its place in the Great Republic must perforce focus not on one branch or the other but on the two co-equal branches and how they work together to advance the people's business, or not.
Why did Senator Kennedy decide to focus his institute on just one branch? First, because he served in the United States Senate for nearly fifty years and was widely regarded as one of its Grand Old Men. Second, because it was the sole branch of government in which all three famous brothers served, John, Robert, and Edward.
Once the decision was made that the Institute should focus solely on the United States Senate, a host of otherwise avoidable problems was planted and began to grow. These problems are now numerous and acute, threatening an already illogical organization that wiser heads than those in charge would have seen as a disaster waiting to happen, taking prompt remedial action accordingly, not least to save the face of this celebrated family.
The project is born (2003).
When you're a Kennedy of the Camelot Kennedys, it is expected, anticipated that you will have suitable monument, large, grandiose, something that adds to the family's renowned place in the history of the Great Republic. For after all, to be a Kennedy is to be an historic figure. No one knows this better than the Kennedy in question, the next to be immortalized. Discussions amongst the cognoscenti go something like this: "Should I run for offices for which I am entirely unqualified... or not?" "Should the names of my several spouses and friends with benefits be included in my monument... or not?" "Should this stirring quotation attributed to me but written by my ghost writer be chiselled in my eternal stone... or not?"
Such questions are unending, continual... and treated with the utmost seriousness by those expecting apotheosis, victims all to a collective edifice complex, the latest example being the Kennedy Senate Institute, a whopping 40,000 square feet of hubris. And what is to take place in all that space? Just about everything that has to do with the Senate, including its history, members, operating procedures, educational programs, issues, debates, filibusters, legislative training et al. Only senatorial amours and favorite salad dressings have been left out.
The problem is, the way this institute is organized is egregiously incorrect. Just as love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, so does the United States Senate go hand-in-hand with the United States House of Representatives. Whilst each has its unique aspects, neither makes complete sense (much less a productive legislative enterprise) without the other. They are two halves of the whole.
Imagine this scenario.
Ms. Martin's 5th graders are learning about how Congress works, how bills become laws... or not. Emmy Sue asks what happens when a bill passes the Senate. What then? And there's the rub... the Senate-only institute stops just when it needs to continue, so that people understand the complete Congress, the total legislative process, not merely its seigneurial "upper" branch. Even Emmy Sue, age 10, will know something's amiss when the guide says, "Er, the Senate bill goes to the House, but this institute only covers the Senate, so I cannot tell you more...." Even ten-year-olds would consider this weird, bogus, dumb. And they'd be right. That's why there must be a complete halt to the current farce... and a total rethinking of this embarrassing "institute" that has "Keystone cops" written all over it, before there are further cost over runs and another seventy million dollars, more or less, are wasted.
What must be done?
1) The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate as presently configured must be terminated. Its 40,000 square feet should be transferred to the JFK Presidential Library. Suitable spaces within the whole should be carved out for Robert Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy, their wives and families, personal lives and professional achievements.
2) Focus should shift to a much needed Congress facility where everything about the Congress of the United States, past, present and future, can be showcased and presented to a nation which desperately needs a brilliant state-of-the-art interactive facility, the apogee of American technology, architecture, and historic preservation and presentation.
3) A suitable Washington, D.C. location should be scouted, considered, selected... no other location can or should be reviewed, much less Dorchester, Massachusetts, its current pied-a-terre.
4) ALL current administrators should be graciously, courteously shown the door forthwith.
5) The highest possible blue ribbon advisory board and trustees should be appointed with the sitting president a must as honorary chair. Mrs. Victoria Reggie Kennedy can have an honorable seat amongst them, but no more. An important institution requires important governors, and it is telling that the current institute has none.
6) A complete fund raising plan should be drafted with both private and public funds to be raised.
7) A knowledgeable, hands-on, organizational expert must be appointed, an individual of skills, deep pockets, and determination. My suggestion? Mitt Romney, if the presidency eludes him. After all Romney salvaged the 2002 Olympics. He is even an historic footnote in the story. He ran against Senator Kennedy in 1994, and lost. Mitt would do the project proud. His considerable pride alone would see to that.
Can such a radical shift take place? Of course. IF the principals now bobbling the matter are open to reason and a willingness to put the needs of the Great Republic above their own. Thus we need a "fixer" to arrange matters with grace, kindness, clarity, efficiency and such ruthless and surgical incision as may be called for.
In short, we need Joseph P. Kennedy, Patriarch. He would have seen the point, dragooned the personnel and raised the lavish funds required. Oh, where is Joe Kennedy now, and where shall we find his like -- and fast enough to avoid more muddle and abashment? For these, muddle and abashment, have set the two surviving children of Edward Kennedy against the woman he loved and revealed how toxic this situation already is and how much more poisonous it could get. For now, this is the sad legacy of Edward Moore Kennedy, and until it is firmly taken in hand, rethought and redirected it will fester and deteriorate into rancor, bitterness, and enmity.
As the music to accompany this article, I have selected "The Country's In The Very Best of Hands" (music by Gene De Paul; lyrics by Johnny Mercer) from the 1956 production of "Li'l Abner." Go now to hear this ironic gem... and let's hope it motivates the folks so over their heads and misguided at The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, so obviously not in the best of hands, or anywhere thing near.