It's time to say "enough" to legacy and celebrity appointments to the Senate
The big issue in the blog-o-world today is Caroline Kennedy for U.S. Senate in New York. To say I have mixed feelings about the idea would be an understatement. Ironically, I saw the only surviving member of President Kennedy's nuclear family back in April, when I was sent to cover a brief appearance she made out in Mt. Airy for a group of undecided but Obama-leaning mostly female voters. I found her bearing to be a tad regal, and I don't mean that in the good sense of the word. She was an effective verbal saleswoman for Obama but didn't connect well with the audience and -- in fairness, running way behind her schedule -- she dashed off without shaking hands with anyone or answering any questions. The idea that she might be U.S. Senate material did not occur to me.
That is why I've leaned heavily from Day One toward believing that the idea of her replacing Hillary Clinton as New York's junior senator is a bad one. New York, where I was raised and lived again for a time as a younger adult, is a state with a vibrant political culture -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most of the state's leading figures -- like recent governors George Pataki and the current David Patterson (let's leave Spitzer out of this post) or senior senator Chuck Schumer are folks I covered when I worked for Newsday in the 1980s -- they've been around forever, negotiating 4 a.m.budget deals in Albany and then working the streets for votes back home. These are people who, for better or worse, treat the public service of politics as a job, not an entitlement.
Which is exactly what the high-profile N.Y. Senate seat would be for Caroline Kennedy, a leap-frog over many Democrats who've been fighting for progressive causes for decades.
In the last day or so, there's been a bit of a counter-backlash, with people asking "Why not Caroline Kennedy?" It's true that we don't necessarily want career politicians in the U.S. Senate, and Caroline Kennedy has lived her life well in the face of more personal tragedy than most of us will ever have to deal with; she earned her law degree, raised a family, written out or spoken for good causes like civil liberties, and raised money for the New York City schools and for charitable causes. Her New York Times op-ed endorsing Barack Obama was a huge boost for the eventual victor, and she advised Obama's vice presidential search. Some have noted that her experience seems on a par with Hillary Clinton when the then-First Lady ran for Senate in New York in 2000.
That's a valid comparison -- but I wasn't at all thrilled about Hillary Clinton's candidacy, either. I do think we need more non-politicians in the Senate and the House -- school teachers and firefighters and Iraq veterans and maybe a rank-and-file journalist who's not Chris Matthews. Not other multi-millionaire legacy cases, which is what Caroline Kennedy would be. As Glenn Greenwald and others have noted, the system is increased gamed for celebrities or political offspring and spouses from Hillary Clinton to Beau Biden to Lisa Murkowski (daughter of Alaska's governor) to Jesse Jackson Jr. (let's leave the Bush family out of this post) to get free appointments to Senate seats or handed gimme elections in overwhelmingly red or blue states. Everyday pols need not apply -- even though it is often the non-legacy types from regular backgrounds like Joe Biden or Sarah Palin and Barack Obama who seem to rise to the very top once they get a shot.
As for all there legacy appointments...enough! If Caroline Kennedy really wants more than anything to be a United States senator from New York, she has two years to travel the Utica-Watertown circuit and work hard before the special election in 2010. But as for the interim appointment, I'll have to go with what Brian Wilson of the the Beach Boys said many, many years ago.