THE KENNEDYS are leaving Hyannisport.
Not all of them, at least not right away, but enough to discern a pattern.
Max Kennedy, one of Ethel and the late Robert Kennedy's nine surviving grown children, is selling his waterfront summer home for just under $6 million.
Joan Kennedy, former wife of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, sold her 13-room spread on nearby Squaw Island last December. News reports did not mention a price, but said the property was assessed at $3.7 million.
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, sold the nine-bedroom house owned by her parents for $3 million in 2003, albeit to her uncle, Senator Kennedy, thereby keeping the property in the family.
Like her mother, Caroline Kennedy prefers the solitude of Martha's Vineyard to the confines of the often-crowded compound.
In 2003, Ethel Kennedy put up for sale the sprawling antebellum home in McLean, Va., where she and her late husband were raising their huge family when RFK was gunned down in 1968. Ethel Kennedy initially sought $25 million for Hickory Hill, but the slumping market has dropped the price to $15 million.
In and of themselves, these transactions and prospective sales don't signify much. Taken together, they show a pattern.
Like an exiled royal family no longer confident of succeeding to the throne, the Kennedys are selling crown jewels to maintain a style of living to which they've become accustomed. And slowly, inexorably, their decades-long stature in our collective memory is fading.
Few people are probably aware, for example, that JFK's summer White House was not in the compound, where the Secret Service deemed the actual house owned by Kennedy a security risk. Instead, the First Family stayed on isolated Squaw Island a half-mile away -- in the house later acquired by Joan Kennedy in her divorce and sold last December.
Hickory Hill, a gathering spot for politicos and glitterati in the '60s as RFK worked to restore Camelot, was sold to Robert and Ethel Kennedy in 1957 -- from JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy. As a year-round residence for both families, its place in the Kennedy saga is arguably more important than that of the compound, a summer retreat.
Ethel Kennedy, an aging widow whose children have left the nest, has decided that she no longer needs a Georgian mansion with 13 bedrooms. And there is little interest for the venerable property to stay in-house, so to speak, as with the summer home once owned by JFK.
Then again, could anyone in the family afford it? That no one comes to mind -- other than Edward Kennedy -- is telling.
The Kennedys, once a force of nature who epitomized potential, can no longer point to an up-and-comer who'll restore them to former glory.
Evidence of this was apparent before the real-estate signs began popping up. The 1990s were a decade horribilis for the family, starting with the death of in-law and consigliere Stephen Smith, in 1990. A year later came the rape trial of his son, William Kennedy Smith, followed in the mid-90s by a tell-all memoir from Joseph Kennedy II's ex-wife describing him as a bully, unflattering scrutiny of Kennedy non-profit Citizens Energy, and a sex scandal involving Michael Kennedy, followed by his death while skiing in Aspen.
In July 1999 came the cruelest blow of all -- the deaths of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law in a plane crash. JFK Jr. had been anointed the progeny most likely to succeed, and his ambition and loss loom larger by the year when compared to his survivors' retreat.
By mid-2001, the family's shrinking prospects had become obvious when Max Kennedy ran a brief campaign for Congress before dropping out in a hail of criticism. Oldest brother Joseph, whose name was once invoked in every election cycle, is now cited only sporadically, having played Hamlet perhaps too many seasons.
In 2002, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and cousin Mark Shriver lost runs for office in Maryland. And candidates backed by Edward Kennedy -- Al Gore, John Kerry and Bay State gubernatorial candidate Shannon O'Brien in 2002 -- have all gone down in defeat.
The most recent example of Kennedy reversals could be seen at a Columbus Day weekend fundraiser at the compound given by Edward Kennedy for Deval Patrick, the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts.
Kennedy fought tooth-and-nail last spring in Congress to derail a proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Patrick, on the other hand, made support for Cape Wind an early and defining issue in his campaign.
Kennedy's attempt to kill Cape Wind failed; Patrick won the primary in a landslide.
With Patrick holding a 20-point lead in the polls, Kennedy is presumably less inclined to want the Massachusetts governor to have final say over Cape Wind. Not surprisingly, neither man mentioned Cape Wind at the fund-raiser.
Which is not to say the once-formidable Kennedy machine doesn't have at least one person in the extended family generating hope for the future.
A Republican and former actor best known for roles as an action hero, his name is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Jack Coleman, of Plymouth, writes about politics at the Politics Etc. blog at capecodtoday.com. He is a former political writer for The Cape Cod Times. This appeared Sunday as an Op-Ed in The Providence Journal here.