(Originally written Tuesday, December 30th, 2008)
I know you how much you adore the Kennedys. I know what they mean to you, to us in the party, and to our country. I understand it because I love them too! But I'm afraid I must commit a cardinal sin of our party; I must oppose the appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the soon-to-be vacated junior Senate seat of New York.
I'll begin with a statement that will likely make your skin crawl; I honestly cannot see how one can attack Sarah Palin's trumping up of her record to convince voters she was ready to be Vice President of the United States and then defend Caroline Kennedy's record as worthy of the United States Senate representing the state of New York.
Now for a few qualifiers. First, Sarah Palin is a festering moron; Caroline Kennedy is not (one case in point: Kennedy has a double-Ivy league education; Palin has...a lot of colleigate hoodies). Second, Caroline would make an infinitely better Senator than Sarah Palin would make anything (except for a folksy hunting/hockey mom/lipstick and sash wearing family matriarch on a new hit Fox Family series entitled "Palin' with Palin" Talks with execs are resuming after the holiday) let alone VP. Third, I'm sure Caroline reads The New York Times.
In spite of these differences between the two female pols, they do share quite a bit. They're both ambitious women who seek to make differences (for better or worse) in the world around them. They are both working moms. They are both charismatic (whether they mean to be or not). And as we've seen, they're both polarizing. And despite Caroline's family name, she still represents (or at least claims to) the everyday working mother, strong-minded woman trying to make it in a man's world. Caroline says she's not the "conventional choice" and that her experiences as a working mother and education reformer will help her relate more intimately to New Yorkers and their needs. Replace "New Yorkers" with "pro-America Americans" and it begins to sound familiar, right? Let me share with you an excerpt from an article in the Outlook section of today's WaPo entitled "She's a Kennedy, But She's a Lot Like Us":
"Amid all the recent buzz about Caroline Kennedy's bid for a U.S. Senate seat, there has been a great deal of talk about her connections, her power, her wealth. But the way I see it, if you strip away the glamour, the name and the money, then Caroline is...me"
Remember when Sarah Palin, despite her status, her occupation, and her $150,000 wardrobe represented all the everyday Joe Sixpack Americans who were just like her in every way?
The columnist goes on: "Rather than a privileged aberration, I prefer to view Kennedy as a bellweather, a case study in how things could be if only the workplace were more accepting of an unconventional [resume], one that may brim with great experience and skills and talent but is also peppered with gaps."
Replace "Kennedy" with "Palin" and...well you see where I'm going.
I understand my comparison of Kennedy to Palin was somewhat unfair to Caroline, but that unfairness stems entirely from the perception (which we both know is a true one) that Sarah Palin is a backwater, uneducated redneck who catered to the worst elements of her party. But similarly, the Kennedy clan represents to some the very worst manifestation of unabashed liberalism, rampant immorality, and blatant nepotism. And while between you and me we certainly know who the better person is between these two individuals, in a meritocracy one must judge another by her record. Sarah Palin's record is consistent, and were she to challenge Sen. Lisa Murkowski and run for the Alaska Senate seat, she'd certainly be qualified for it (on paper).
Caroline's record is diverse but somewhat haphazard, and it certainly does not help her that she refuses to stand scrutiny in the court of public opinion by being, as the NYT put it, "less like a candidate than an idea of one: forceful but vague, largely undefined and seemingly determined to remain that way." The above doesn't speak to my opinion on what kind of Senator Caroline could be; as I said earlier, I believe, as you do, that she would be fantastic. But for the purposes of this argument, what you and I are in agreement with is irrelevant. It is the means we are debating, not the end.
Here's where my problem lies, and I'm quite sure it's a grievance you've already heard. Explain to me how Caroline Kennedy would ever be remotely considered by Governor Paterson or any other governor in the country for a U.S. Senate seat if her name was or Caroline Schlossberg? or Caroline Palin? or Caroline Wurzelbacher?
What has she done to merit consideration outside of being born a Kennedy?
Yes, yes, I know you've heard the whole nepotism argument used against the prospect of another Sen. Kennedy (D-NY). And I know your well-founded love affair with all things Kennedy has convinced you that Caroline would be a boon to the people of New York and America. I too was at first enthralled by the notion, and was thrilled to see the Democratic establishment rally around it. The storyline surrounding it is incredible. Little "sweet Caroline" growing up to inherit her lionized and heroic uncle's office. Sounds like a script, right? But the key word here is "inherit." Don't get me wrong, she has led an impressive career even in a family familiar with high-expectations. But is she worthy of a seat in the United States Senate? And if in fact she is, should she be handed it? She may make a good Senator, but should she be made a Senator?
Let's talk about public opinion. You are correct to point out that she is very popular, the leading choice for the vacant seat. Is this the only criterion upon which Governor Paterson should make his decision? Of course not. As any person with a fair amount of experience in politics surely knows, public opinion polls do not translate into actual support. Keep in mind that Sarah Palin (to raise her ugly spectre again) ranks high in Republicans' choice for nominee in 2012. Now Democrat, we both would love for these poll numbers to actualize, but you and I both know she'll never win the nomination. Using public opinion polls to justify Caroline's selection is cheap. To truly demonstrate public support, one must pass the public opinion poll that really counts: an election.
In her NYT interview, Kennedy said of herself, "I'm really coming into this as somebody who isn't part of the system." Really? She is the system. Even if she hasn't been directly involved in politics, she still represents, for better or worse, old-style politics. She is a Kennedy, just like George is a Bush and Hillary is a Clinton. She's the very thing voters showed they've grown tired of this year. But you and I know better. You and I know that Caroline Kennedy is not to New York as George W. Bush is to America. But if that's true, it must not be taken for granted; rather, it must be demonstrated. Caroline had a golden opportunity to show to the country that her family and what they represent are not only still relevant, but are still demanded and desired by the people. She had the opportunity to demonstrate, to convince, to win. She had the opportunity to silence the critics and carry on the Kennedy mantle with poise and in victory. She instead chose to tie the governor's hands.
Which brings me to my central point; why didn't Caroline announce her candidacy in 2010? Why not run for the office instead of backing the appointer into an uncomfortable corner? Why not spend a few months on the campaign trail next year convincing the voters of New York of her merit? Why risk the inevitable embarrassment caused by not being chosen? Does she not believe in the possibility in this outcome ("I'm a KENNEDY DAMNIT!")
In the same interview with the Times, Caroline revealed that she came to the decision to go public with her Senate ambitions "a few weeks ago." Why, instead of hastily throwing herself into contention for the appointment, did she not choose to spend these next two years garnering support, building a team, gathering ammunition on Guiliani and Pataki, and winning an election in true Kennedy fashion, boldly and convincingly? If New Yorkers love her now, won't they love her in a year?
Now you may say, "well even if she's appointed, she still has to win in 2010." This is true. But the point is she wouldn't even have that opportunity if it weren't for who she is related to. There are plenty of more qualified people who the governor, acting in the interest of his state, could and should choose. Andrew Cuomo comes to mind, a much more qualified Democrat and, like Caroline, one of New York's favorite children. Have you seen him so publicly declare his desire to become the junior Senator of New York? No. But do you for one minute doubt he wants it? Probably not.
When asked why she wasn't running for the Senate seat in 2010, Kennedy said,"Actually, I think that actually a campaign would be an easier way [to earn the Senate seat], because I think it would give me a chance to explain exactly what I'm doing, why I would want to do this, and, you know, and get people to know me better and to understand exactly what my plans would be, how hard I would work."
Exactly, Caroline. Despite your bogus claim that somehow a campaign would be "an easier way" to the Senate, it's the path you should have taken. If you are sincere about the job, you earn it. You don't demand it.
Hell, she's a Kennedy. Why couldn't she win an election? Say what you want about Sarah Palin and her baseless sense of entitlement. But at least she wasn't banking on her name to win.
Look Democrat, we just elected a man to the presidency with no family name to be proud of. He was the "heir apparent" to nothing. Now his name is the sound of hope and change the world over. He proved that in this country your father and his father have no say in the outcome of your own success. This country has always strived to be a meritocracy, and while it's fallen short of that many times in the past, the least we can do is resist the forces working against this noble goal when we identify them. I'm dying to see another Kennedy in the Senate. But not just because she's a Kennedy.
We do need a Kennedy in the Senate. And it's because of the reasons you and I know and agree on. The family brand represents something powerful, something invincible. They are a symbol that our party, and in your and my opinion, the country, cannot afford to lose. John, Robert, and Edward earned their stature as lions. They won. Caroline cannot deny that they are the sole reason she's even a serious contender for the appointment. If she weren't a Kennedy and still wanted the job badly enough, she'd be quietly working the backrooms in uptown cocktail receptions and fundraisers in Manhattan, building her ground team two years in advance for the run of her life. But instead she decided to bank on the name and fame of her family to catapult her into the High Chamber. What kind of message does that send? That our party is a family affair? That our surnames do in fact grant us undue favor when we are told from a young age they needn't matter because we are what we work for? I'm not naive enough to think that a family name doesn't or shouldn't mean anything. It does and it should. But whether it's the Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, Osmonds, or Obamas, a family must prove its worth, not demand deference.
We do need a Kennedy in the Senate. But I do care how she gets there. Let the people of New York decide with levers.
P.S. I think New Yorkers are catching on: