Tina Brown: Bad Divorces

Walter McBride / Corbis

A suicide by hanging suggests not only a deep and desperate sadness but also rage toward the people left behind. There is something disquietingly meticulous about making and fastening a noose; and when loved ones find the body, it is intact, accusatory.

It was to explore the inevitable disconnect between what seemed to be the story and what really took place that Newsweek asked Laurence Leamer, author of The Kennedy Women, to investigate the suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy, the wife of Robert Kennedy Jr., third child of Ethel Kennedy and JFK’s iconic younger brother Bobby. Mary’s self-destruction seemed to be in such discord with the strikingly beautiful face that appeared on the covers of newspapers on the morning of May 17.

Americans have learned to live with what the tabloids love to call the “Kennedy curse.” But they’re still spooked by each new dark episode in a famous family riddled with mental illness and drug addiction, the assassinations of JFK and RFK, David’s death by overdose in the ’80s, Ted’s Chappaquiddick scandal, and the unsettling plane crashes—one of which snuffed out the dashing JFK Jr. and his beautiful wife. After Mary Richardson Kennedy’s death, immediate reports laid blame on her husband’s philandering.

It was an ill-starred marriage, that’s for sure. Bobby himself, now a leading environmentalist, is a former heroin addict, and the two came together as charmed, golden people with horrible buried problems. Both were recovering addicts with addictive behavior—Bobby was indeed unfaithful, a fact that helped put Mary over the edge. Suffering from what was later diagnosed as borderline personality disorder, Mary fell into drinking, and when Bobby filed for divorce she lost control. “Her suicide was both a statement of hopelessness about her prospects of staying married,” a psychiatrist who met with Mary tells Leamer, “and it was an angry statement of her perception that she had been abandoned and betrayed.”

A bad marriage is Europe’s condition as well. As Niall Ferguson writes in his essay on the euro zone, we have a continent of strange bedfellows, some so incompatible that one has to wonder what they were thinking when they agreed to get hitched without a prenup. And here, too, the theme of self-destruction threads through the tale. Was the euro a suicide pact? One has to appreciate Margaret Thatcher’s resistance to the single currency—so spirited, so mulish—as one sees Angela Merkel, an iron lady of a sort, battle to keep her continent from coming apart. And watching aghast from the sidelines is Barack Obama, whose very future as president may depend on such basket cases as Greece and Spain—and the irreconcilable chasm between Europe’s industrious north and its dysfunctional south.

Ray Kelly knows a thing or two about treacherous divides. The New York City police commissioner with a pugilist’s mug and a lion’s heart has been keeping America’s prime terrorist target safe ever since 9/11. His aggressive approach to policing—and an in-house intel shop to rival the CIA—has staved off plots aplenty. But along the way, perilous cracks have developed in the relationship between Kelly’s ground troops and the FBI. Those cracks led to a blown traffic stop of a suspected terrorist with explosive chemicals in his trunk—and a breakdown in communications this spring that left the NYPD in the dark amid reports of a new underwear bomb designed to evade airport security. As Christopher Dickey writes in his profile of Kelly, “History suggests infighting could have dangerous consequences.”

This would be another bad divorce.

Join the Discussion