Hate to admit it, but I hadn't been paying much attention to the talk that Caroline Bouvier Kennedy might become my state's Senator.
I figured the talk was just that, talk, Media types expressing their half-wish, half-belief that politics is a 1980s style night time soap opera like Dynasty or Dallas with no more real world consequences than JR's scheming or Alexis' latest plot against Krystle. As far as I was concerned, Caroline Kennedy's name was coming up for the same reason Bill Clinton's was. They're celebrities with sexy back stories and speculation about them was an excuse to talk about the sexy back stories instead of political realities.
I thought a Kennedy might be appointed to replace Hillary Clinton when she becomes Secretary of State, but I thought that Kennedy would be Robert Kennedy Jr.
And if it wasn't him, my money would have been on someone who'd been married to a Kennedy and whose children are members of the clan, Andrew Cuomo.
I supposed that, ideally, Governor Paterson should pick one of the New York City Congresswomen who've been mentioned for the job, either Carolyn Maloney or Nydia Velazquez.
(Velazquez has taken herself out of consideration.)
But now that it's beginning to look as though Kennedy's appointment a serious possibility, I guess as a responsible citizen and voter I need to develop an opinion.
Give me a second.
Ok. Got one.
I think it's a good idea.
But not a satisfying one.
I don't think she's the best candidate for the job. Andrew Cuomo, her cousin, the two Congresswomen from New York City, the two from Long Island, just about every New York Congressperson, the mayor of Buffalo, and probably a few State Senators are far better qualified for the job. Any one of them would probably make a better Senator, at least to start with. And choosing any one of them would make all the others really mad.
What I'm saying is that if I were Governor Paterson I think I would be extremely grateful Caroline Kennedy's offering to take the decision out of my hands.
The object here is not to pick the best person for the job. The job is to pick the best person who can hold onto the seat in the next election.
And the election after that.
The next Senator has to run in a special election in 2010 and then run again in 2012 when Clinton's term would have expired.
That would give the Republicans two quick shots at defeating the appointee, whose hold on the office would be shaky and who wouldn't have time to build up a lot of political capital and good will around the state.
And it wouldn't be just a Republican who saw an opportunity. The passed-over Congresscritters, their constituencies and the local machines that supported them, would all be out for blood and vengeance. The reason New York City has had a Republican mayor for so long is that New York City Democrats hate each other.
It's borough against borough down there.
And even within the boroughs the local machines have factions.
Republicans who might have gotten their hopes up when Clinton accepted Barack Obama's offer to make her his Secretary of State are having second thoughts at the prospect of having to take on a Kennedy.
But Caroline Kennedy is also a lot less likely to face a serious primary challenge.
Again, if I was Governor Paterson, this would be a relief, because it's not just the Senate seat that has to be defended in 2010. Paterson himself will be running, trying to get elected to the office he now holds by accident. I'd much rather run with Caroline Kennedy's name on the ballot next to mine, and I'd much rather be running with the party happy, confident, and united behind me or at least grumpily going through the motions of being all those things.
I'm talking through my hat, of course. I don't have a clue as to what's going on inside David Paterson's head. Besides thinking that the Caroline Kennedy for Senator talk was just a form of gossip-mongering, I wondered if she wasn't being used as a stalking horse. Her celebrity was useful for keeping the Media's focus off the Governor as he took his time about making up his mind and then working behind the scenes to gain support for his choice and mend fences, smooth fences, and put out fires.
For all I know, this is in fact what's going on.
Kennedy herself sure sounds like she means it though.
Probably I'm not as bothered by the dynastic dilemma as I ought to be. Republicans and their media apologists expressing disapproval are a pack of hypocrites and liars because we all know that if George W. Bush hadn't screwed everything up they'd be enthusiastically talking up his brother Jeb as the heir apparent and telling us why the dynastic thing didn't matter any more than it mattered when W. was running for President on his father's good name. But as a small d democrat of course I'm against creating, perpetuating, and rewarding an aristocracy, even a liberal one, in principle. I don't like it that Kennedy could be my Senator for the next two years just because she's a Kennedy. But as a capital D Democrat I believe that the best way to ensure small d democratic principles are represented and advanced in Washington is to send liberal Democratic Senators there to represent and advance them. That means winning elections. Caroline Kennedy appears to be a very liberal Democrat, in the tradition of her uncle Ted, and she can win.
In a truly democratic and egalitarian society, a person's family background should not be held against her, she should be judged and allowed to succeed or fail on her own merits, and that's just as true if she comes from a rich and powerful and famous family as from a poor and obscure one. I wouldn't have any complaint if Paterson appoints either Andrew Cuomo or Robert Kennedy, even though both of them are beneficiaries of political legacies. I haven't looked into everybody else's backgrounds thoroughly but it's a safe bet that some of them have benefited from family connections and old school ties. And the dynastic dilemma hasn't really been much of a problem in the history of the Republic. The Bushes have been a problem, but the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Tafts, the Stevensons, and the Kennedys are more important for the exceptional individuals that have occasionally risen from the gene pools than for their influence as families, which for all of them have waned faster than they ever waxed.
The possibility that the son of a former Vice-President and President and grandson of a United States Senator was going to be succeeded by the wife of a former President was something to think about but it would have a real anomaly and wouldn't have been repeated. Neither Jeb Bush nor Chelsea Clinton would have become the 45th President of the United States. Go back over the list of Presidents in the 20th Century and you have a list of ten self-made men and five inheritors of family political legacies, and those five include two Democrats, three progressives, and one who was probably the greatest enemy of an American aristocracy that the country's ever had.
In the last election, the people chose the son of a single mother over the son and grandson of admirals and husband of an heiress.
What I'm saying is that while it's annoying that Caroline Kennedy would probably not be about to become a United States Senator if she'd been born a Schlossberg instead of marrying one, I think the Republic and democracy will survive a legacy appointment.
Here in New York we seem to have one our Senate seats reserved for celebrity carpetbaggers---Bobby Kennedy, James Buckley, and Hillary Clinton pretty much sent us letters from out of state announcing that they were going to do us the favor and honor of becoming our Senator, and we could thank them for it later. Caroline Kennedy is at least a more thorough-going New Yorker than they were.
My reservations about her are based more on her resume than her pedigree. She may be a Kennedy, but she's been an extremely quiet one.
Steve Clemons wonders if Kennedy isn't just plain unqualified for the job:
It seems hypocritical to on the one hand challenge Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's qualifications and readiness to have potentially assumed the presidency if something had happened to John McCain and if, of course, their ticket had won on November 4th and then on the other, say nothing about Caroline Kennedy's dearth of real policy and political experience to assume one of the most powerful offices in the country -- even if a Senator is usually not as consequential as a President.
There's a big difference between being one of a hundred Senators and the possible Vice-President of a 72 year old President with a recent history of cancer and other health problems. Steve is aware of it, but Steve is making the comparison in order to point out something else. Note this bit: "Caroline Kennedy's dearth of real policy and political experience to assume one of the most powerful offices in the country..."
At the moment New York State is represented in two of the most powerful, persuasive, and effective liberals in the Senate. (Pause here for obligatory lament about what that says about the sorry state of liberalism.) We're not talking about replacing a Republican, whom replacing with almost any liberal Democrat would be a welcome part of a general improvement project. The next Senator will be succeeding Hillary Clinton who succeeded Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I don't want our state to give up that power and influence.
Caroline Kennedy may turn out to be a quick study and quickly turn herself into a knowledgeable and responsible Senator. But how fast can she turn herself into a tough and savvy political leader?
Kennedy has been active in many worthy causes and has demonstrated leadership and organizational skills. She has had to be political. But that doesn't necessarily mean she's been an effective politician.
Or to put it starkly, I don't think she scares people.
I've only seen her in public once, that was back in September at ServiceNation, which she helped organize. She didn't speak. She came on stage with some other VIPs and when she was introduced she looked a little embarrassed and gave a shy little wave that made me think of a mother in the PTO who has been asked to stand by the President so everybody can applaud her for the good job she did organizing the upcoming raffle. I admired her apparent modesty and desire for self-effacement and I thought, What a nice lady!
Which is what I'm imagining some other powerful Senator thinking to himself as he's ushered her out his door.
Somehow I doubt it's what other powerful Senators think about Hillary Clinton as she kicks their doors down.
If Paterson follows the polls in making his pick, then State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will be our next Senator. I'm kind of surprised Paterson hasn't already picked him. (So is Cuomo, according to the New York Times.) Again, I've got nothing close to inside knowlege, but if I were Paterson I'd see some compelling advantages in sending Cuomo to Washington. Cuomo would like to have his father's old job, Governor, and while I would expect he'll be willing to wait until 2014 when my second term's up, assuming I don't want a third term, he's not known for his patience and I don't know for sure how my chances are shaping up for 2010. My new budget proposal isn't making me a lot of friends. Senator Andrew Cuomo running for his own election is a much more reliable ally than Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who is very likely nursing a grudge. I'd rather not have any primary challenge from that quarter, thank you very much.
And that would clear the way for Robert Kennedy to become state AG.
No predictions here, except this: If it were up to me, whoever's our next senator will have a famous father.