Politics The Opinionsphere

Defending Caroline Kennedy

Maureen Dowd defends Caroline Kennedy:

Congress, which abdicated its oversight role as the Bush crew wrecked the globe and the economy, desperately needs fresh faces and new perspectives, an infusion of class, intelligence and guts.

People complain that the 51-year-old Harvard and Columbia Law School grad and author is not a glib, professional pol who knows how to artfully market herself, and is someone who hasn’t spent her life glad-handing, backstabbing and logrolling. I say, thank God.

The press whines that she doesn’t have a pat answer about why she wants the job. I’ve interviewed a score of men running for president; not one had a good answer for why he wanted it…

I know Caroline Kennedy. She’s smart, cultivated, serious and unpretentious. The Senate, shamefully sparse on profiles in courage during Dick Cheney’s reign of terror, would be lucky to get her.

Barack Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

Caroline Kennedy (cont. again)

Andrew Sullivan – who loyal readers of the blog will know is the reason I began to blog – is hyperventilating today. In a post titled “Less Qualified Than Palin,” Sullivan wants to convince his readers that Caroline Kennedy is like Sarah Palin. But his argument fails miserably to prove the point he wants to make:

In fact, Sarah Palin was more qualified to be vice-president than Caroline Kennedy is to be a Senator.

The problem with Sarah Palin that Sullivan more than anyone else made was that she was not a serious candidate in that she hadn’t seriously considered the issues that would be facing her as Vice President. This was the qualification she was lacking that Sullivan rightly harped on. As he wrote immediately after she was announced:

Yes, Obama is inexperienced in foreign policy. But at least he has thought seriously about it. Do you really believe that Sarah Palin understands the distinctions between Shia and Sunni, has an opinion about the future of Pakistan, has a view of how to exploit rifts within Tehran’s leadership, knows about the tricky task of securing loose nuclear weapons? [my emphasis]

These are issues that Palin would be faced with as Vice President – and based on her public comments, she hadn’t seriously dealt with the issues. And her lack of serious thought on the issue seemed to be the result of deliberate ignorance – or perhaps incuriousness – as Sullivan pointed out citing George Will:

Can you name a single newspaper or magazine you currently read? If you can, you are more qualified to be president than Sarah Palin.

And you can feel him stretching the facts to make his point fit in his recent piece claiming Caroline Kennedy – who can almost certainly name a few dozen newspapers and magazines she reads, as well as a few she has published serious pieces in. The worst example is how Sullivan takes this statement by Kennedy:

“I’ve written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation. And I’ve raised my family.”

And responds to that sentence with: “Good for you. But so have millions of others.” I presume he only means the latter part. He describes the above defense as “even more painful than Palin’s.”

Really? Remember this?

Look – I’m not saying Caroline Kennedy is the best possible candidate for the Senate seat. But the over-the-top criticism by Andrew Sullivan – as well as others – demonstrates a lack of perspective. Caroline Kennedy – with her involvement in constitutional law and education issues – can bring that experience with her to the Senate.

Kathleen Parker gets to the heart of the issue in a way that defuses Andrew Sullivan’s argument:

The real rub is that she hasn’t earned it. The sense of entitlement implicit in Kennedy’s plea for appointment mocks our national narrative. We honor rags-to-riches, but riches-to-riches animates our revolutionary spirit.

Palin paid her own passage unfreighted by privilege. But I and others opposed her spot on the Republican ticket for good reasons, some of which resemble concerns now aimed at Kennedy.

To wit: It isn’t enough to want the prize. One must be up to the job, in a league with one’s fellow actors.

In Kennedy’s case, those actors would be senators, not heads of other, potentially belligerent, nations. If appointed, she would be a single vote among 100 and otherwise a placeholder until 2010, when she would have to run for election as any other.

Which is to say there are three differences here that make all the difference:

  • Kennedy is “a relatively erudite person who has authored several books” including on legal issues while Palin had a “demonstrated lack of basic knowledge…intellectual incuriosity, and… inability to articulate ideas or even simple thoughts [which] all combined to create an impression of not-quite-there.”
  • Kennedy wants to be 1 of 100 senators; Palin wanted to be 1 old man’s heartbeat away from being Commander-in-Chief.
  • Kennedy would need to run in two years on her own to keep the seat.

These are significant differences – which makes this sentiment all the more jarring, especially from a normally astute observer like Sullivan.

New York City Politics

Caroline Kennedy (cont.)

I admit I don’t get the backlash coming from the potential Caroline Kennedy appointment. I don’t feel the anger, the urgency, the outrage at the idea of appointing someone like Caroline Kennedy. I can understand the arguments being made – but, as with all political issues, there is a gut-level response that is driving the issue forward – a gut-level response that is then justified by a variety of arguments.

Perhaps I’m missing that certain gene that causes people to root against dynasties. I’m not a Yankees fan – but I like their dominance – and I root for them to maintain it, to some extent. I like the fact that the Kennedys are involved in politics – and can usually get elected when they run. If I followed football (soccer), I’d probably be a fan of Manchester United. I don’t think it corrupts either sports or politics when dynasties are present. I don’t viscerally root for the underdog. To be fair – one of the reasons I like dynasties is that they are excellent foils. When the upstart Florida Marlins are playing the dynastic  and storied New York Yankees, it makes the games all the more dramatic. The same was true of Obama when be beat the Clinton machine. I often root for dynasties to do well until they are beaten by a worthy opponent.

But with Caroline Kennedy, that’s not my feeling. I’m not certain she’s the best candidate Gov. Patterson could appoint. But I think she stands a good chance of being an excellent Senator. Most people seem to agree on this point – even as they oppose her appointment.

It’s a very odd argument opponents of Caroline Kennedy are putting forward. Most would acknowledge that Gov. Patterson wants her on the ticket because she would be a very strong candidate drawing many voters in 2010, and that she also would be able to raise money easily, including for his reelection. Yet, the opponents maintain that even though Caroline Kennedy would probably do very well in an election, appointing when she hasn’t run for any office conveys a sense of entitlement. Now – if Kennedy wouldn’t need to run in two years, and again two years after that, I feel like this argument might have more weight.

Politics The Opinionsphere

Caroline Kennedy

The possibility that Caroline Kennedy might be appointed to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate provoked a good deal of emotional responses. Ruth Marcus, writing for the Washington Post said that though she rationally should not want Caroline to be appointed Senator, her heart wanted Caroline be in the Senate to make for a kind of fairy tale ending to her story – of a father assassinated, a brother tragically killed in an accident, a mother dying young – and now, the young noblewoman, the only remaining survivor of her famous family, taking public office.

Richard Bradley writing for Slate, on the other hand, strongly opposes the possibility of Caroline Kennedy getting involved in public service. He mentions several times that he is biased in the matter – as he blames Caroline for trying to block the publication of a book he wrote about her late brother. But he insists his opposition to her is “more than personal.” Clearly from the piece though, it is at root personal. I was somewhat surprised that Slate published the piece at all as the tone struck me as a bit too cheap and personal. Some more editing might have improved the piece – but I thought Bradley’s personal bias came through rather strongly – and that it was based mainly on his perception of having been wronged.

Glenn Greenwald did not come out and specifically oppose Caroline’s appointment – but he wrote a post challenging our political culture of “nepotistic succession.” Although the piece was quoted and much discussed, I thought Greenwald missed the point here. He writes:

There are numerous factors that account for this artistocratization of our politics.  Viewing political officials through the combined prism of royalty and celebrity naturally generates interest in, and affection for, their family members.  The same deeply sad mentality that makes it worthwhile for celebrity magazines to pay many millions of dollars for celebrities’ baby photos is part of what makes so many people eager to vote for the sons, wives, and brothers of their favorite political star.  Independently, a rapid worsening of America’s rich-poor gap stratifies the society in terms of opportunities and access and breeds a merit-deprived aristocratic culture.

I think Greenwald ignores the more mundane explanations for what he calls the “aristocratization of politics.” For example – you don’t need to bring up “the combined prism of royalty and celebrity” and “a rapid worsening of America’s rich-poor gap” to explain why any person is more likely to trust the son or daughter of a friend than a stranger. There is truth to the idea that knowing a parent helps us to know their sons and daughters. This is natural, human, and probably to the good. The important thing is to not assume the qualities of the parent are the qualities of the child – as the Bushes demonstrated. Bush was certainly his father’s son – but he rejected his father’s moderation and common sense in favor of radicalism and ideology.

As for Caroline Kennedy in the New York Senate – I’m not sure that she would be the best choice. But she would be a good choice. The Kennedy name is extremely valuable – and more so on her, given who her father was. She could be very influential solely because of her name.

I think it’s worth taking the chance.