Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Caroline, No

Caroline Kennedy wants the vacated New York Senate seat. Why should she get it? What makes her a better candidate than, say, Fran Drescher?

I'm sure I'm only the 500,000th blogger to take this position. After all, if you're out there blogging, you're the type who still believes that The Little Guy ought to have some say in the world. You're the type to toil away in obscurity, to compose thoughtful messages — each of them carrying just a little bit of yourself — and send them off into The Internet Void, where they'll never be seen again by anyone except yourself and maybe a friend (two, if you're lucky). But you commit yourself to this, without reward or recognition, because you think what you think matters, even if you're at best a Low-Level Internet Personality. Whereas other people are handed the opportunity to publish mass-circulation political magazines — you know, because their dad was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

So you'll have to pardon me if I momentarily slip into a bit of populism here. Caroline, no. NO NO NO NO NO. You don't get to hold a Senate seat once occupied by the likes of Aaron Burr, Robert Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Hillary Clinton, just because you're derivatively famous and you feel restless and need something to do.

Here's Wikipedia's blurb on Caroline Kennedy's "Professional Life."

Kennedy is an attorney, editor, writer and member of the New York and Washington, D.C. bar associations. She is one of the founders of the Profiles in Courage Award, given annually since 1990 to a person who exemplifies the type of courage examined in her father's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name. The award is generally given to elected officials who, acting in accord with their conscience, risk their careers by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or powerful pressures from their constituents. In May 2002, she presented an unprecedented Profiles in Courage Award to representatives of the NYPD, the New York City Fire Department, and the military as representatives of all of the people who acted to save the lives of others during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

For 22 months from 2002 through 2004, Kennedy worked as director of strategic partnerships for the the New York City Department of Education. The three-day-a week job paid her a salary of $1 and had the goal of raising private money [for] the New York City public schools. In her capacity, she helped raise more than $65 million for the city’s public schools, according to her biography at the Kennedy Library. She currently serves as the Vice Chair of The Fund for Public Schools, a public-private partnership founded in 2002 to attract private funding for public schools in New York City.

In addition, Kennedy is currently President of the Kennedy Library Foundation, a director of both the Commission on Presidential Debates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Honorary Chairman of the American Ballet Theatre. She is also an adviser to the Harvard Institute of Politics, a living memorial to her father.

Kennedy has represented her family at the funeral services of former Presidents Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Gerald Ford in 2007, and at the funeral service of former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in 2007. She also represented her family at the dedication of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas in November 2004.

I'll concede that Ms. Kennedy is not your typical dissolute heiress. There is evidence of community engagement here. But let's look at the nature of her work. She administers an award based on a book her father wrote. This is not something that, say, Mithridates could do, because his father didn't write a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about "courage" (no offense to Mo).

But Phutatorius, you write, she has worked as a volunteer for the New York City Department of Education! This sounds admirable, but consider what her role was. Her job was to cultivate "strategic partnerships" and raise "private money" for the DOE. That is, she called the wealthy and powerful people she knew and invited them to posh fundraisers. What she offered the DOE were her connections to elite donors — not policy expertise, not any tireless commitment to grassroots educational reform.

The third block-quoted paragraph describes Ms. Kennedy's service on the boards of various non-profit organization. Geez, you'll have to pardon me if I'm a bit too cynically dismissive of these resume bullets. I realize I don't know the precise circumstances of these appointments, but I'm going to go with "let's get ourselves a Kennedy on the board" over "have you heard of this extraordinary woman — Caroline something? I bet she'd just do some terrific work for us."

Finally, there is this paragraph that describes Ms. Kennedy's several appearances "representing her family" at funerals and library dedications. I don't think anyone — not even Elton John — would regard "funeral attendance" as a professional obligation. It may simply be a quirk of Wikipedia that this business is described as an element of Ms. Kennedy's "professional life," but I think it's telling, for two reasons. First, the writers are obviously straining to fill this segment of the entry. Second, it's actually not that far off to say that Ms. Kennedy's "profession" has been to serve as her father's daughter.

She's a professional daughter. She's good at it — plenty better than, say, Paris Hilton is for her family. And maybe the world needs to have a "daughter of John F. Kennedy" going around doing her "daughter thing," serving on boards, cutting ribbons with gigantic scissors, tasting various caterers' hors d'oeuvres in anticipation of a Casino Night party to raise money for cerebral palsy research. That doesn't mean Caroline Kennedy is entitled to follow her father's footsteps into the United States Senate. That's a place (ostensibly) for serious, accomplished people.

David Paterson needs to take Ms. Kennedy by the hand and say, "Caroline, no."

UPDATE: I got wrapped up in Ms. Kennedy's qualifications earlier, and I neglected to cover another important point, which is that in any other year, Caroline Kennedy would have to prove her mettle in an election. She'd have to endure an extended campaign, work hard, and win the hearts of voters. While it's true that many of these voters — suckers that they are — would favor her based on the name recognition, a successful campaign for higher office requires at least a modicum of effort from the candidate (hello, Fred Thompson). She would have had to show us something in the weeks leading up to the vote.

This is, no doubt, what makes a New York Senate seat suddenly so appealing to Caroline Kennedy now. This sort of "campaign" is right in her wheelhouse. The notion that someone like Ms. Kennedy gets to dial the direct line of the Governor of New York, drop the K-bomb, and jump to the Head of the Senatorial Class should be offensive to every one of us who still believes in meritocracy. If you're a Democrat, and you cried like I did on Election Night, you should want no part of this.

UPDATE: I want the record reflect that I was the first person to post any kind of writing online on this subject, with the title "Caroline, No." (I did a Google search.) Now it's popping up all over the place. I write this because that was probably the best thing about this post, and I want some credit for it.

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