As if we New Yorkers weren't tired enough of political controversy after the Elliot Spitzer farce and the recent Presidential primary/election season (can a "season" last for years?)! The impending elevation of our junior Sen. Hillary R. Clinton to the office of Secretary of State now leaves an open seat for Gov. David Paterson to fill, and the vultures are already circling the tasty carrion. Apparently he has to wait until Sen. Clinton is confirmed after Congress reconvenes, sometime later in January. We sure wish he could just pick someone now and be done with it--or go ahead and sell the rights to the highest bidder, as seems to be the custom in Illinois (hey, now there's a revenue idea!). But that would put a damper on the latest circus of media speculation, and leave Caroline Kennedy with little else to do but, well, host the Kennedy Center Honors show.
Ms. Kennedy is unique, among those mentioned as possible Clinton successors, for her public--some would say shameless--lobbying for the post. Is it not unseemly for a member of our Royal Family to pander for a title which should be hers by Divine Right? ;-) But what really rankles so many New Yorkers--particularly those "upstate"--is that she can boast of few qualifications for such a high and demanding office, other than her last name (leaving aside the question whether the same might be said of Uncle Ted).
Actually, given the fact that she has lived and "worked" within the borders of New York State for almost all her life, Ms. Kennedy is more "qualified," at least by the measure of connections to that legal entity, than was Ms. Clinton when she took office. But Ms. Clinton is deeply admired by New York Democrats, even those north of NYC, for her grit (i.e., staying married to Bill) and knowledge about state and national issues, as well as the many weeks she has spent with upstate citizens listening and discussing their concerns. On the other hand, Ms. Kennedy seems only lately to have discovered that there is a land mass north of Manhattan populated by odd creatures who, rather surprisingly, have a carbon structure similar to her own. I'm being facetious and somewhat unfair, of course (it spices up the writing, though!), but until the looming vacancy in New York's junior Senator seat, Ms. Kennedy showed little interest in anything that might be happening Up There, and not very much more that might be happening anywhere outside the liberal worlds of Academia, Entertainment, and the Mainstream Media (peruse her resume here). She has never before held or even sought a public office, at any level of government (and often didn't bother to cast a vote in elections for local and state offices, including at least one for the office she now seeks--now much to her "dismay"); she has never presided over an important business, charity, or foundation; she has never been a regular or influential contributor to public debate. And this despite her esteemed family, her immense wealth, and her innumerable connections in Washington and other centers of power. In short, she's done less with more than almost any public figure one can think of. Given this history, how hardworking, independent-minded, and productive would you expect her to be in the challenging office of U.S. Senator?
Contrast Ms. Kennedy to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, another woman who recently aspired to high national office. Liberals and other critics scoffed at the supposed thinness of her resume for the office-in-waiting of Vice President. Her knowledge concerning foreign affairs, and of some domestic issues less pressing for the people of Alaska, may have been limited. But she was a self-made individual who achieved distinction through diligent work and public service at multiple levels of government; who earned the respect of both foes and supporters by her readiness to challenge the status quo, take risks, and fight hard; and who still kept firmly in touch with the values and concerns of the ordinary, middle class people from whom she sprang. And she accomplished what she did without benefit of wealth, family distinction, or extensive connections in business or politics. In contrast to Ms. Kennedy, she's done more with less than almost any public figure you can think of. Which type of person would you expect to serve you better in Washington?
This is not to suggest that Ms. Kennedy is altogether disqualified from the Senate seat by her relative inexperience or limited familiarity with the issues. I have no reason to doubt that she is a thoughtful, reasonably intelligent person who cares about America, as we all do. Nor should we automatically exclude from public office, even higher ones, all who lack "elite" credentials--years of experience, Ivy-League education (OK, she has that), highly developed expertise--that are not required by law. To do so would be to turn our backs on democracy and surrender our government to a self-defining corps of "professionals." But one would hope that a candidate lacking a hefty resume would at least be able to bring to the office personal qualities and a list of accomplishments suggesting that he or she would probably do something with that office of substantial benefit to the people. Sarah Palin would be exactly that kind of person (if only she were a New Yorker!); it doesn't look to me like Caroline Kennedy would be. I'd better not hear anyone who dissed Gov. Palin for her lack of "qualifications" suggest that Caroline Kennedy has what it takes to be a good United States Senator!
See my dear sister’s blog for an equally insightful, and undoubtedly more entertaining, commentary on the Quest of Princess Caroline!
UPDATE January 2, 2008: Despite rumors that Gov. Paterson was considering the appointment of a high-profile "caretaker"--perhaps even Bill Clinton!--to fill Hillary Clinton's vacated Senate seat until an open field could compete for it in the 2010 general election, he seems to be backing away from this option. Indeed, it's now being reported here and here that he is leaning toward the appointment of Caroline Kennedy--notwithstanding the uneven quality of her "campaign" for the office and its cool reception in the media and among most citizens in New York State. If this is true, one must wonder what the Governor is smoking, or what it would take to get him committed for mental treatment. Does he honestly think she's a better fit than the many talented and experienced (if ideologically misguided) Democrats who've expressed an interest in the position? Is he utterly indifferent to the wishes of almost all his fellow New Yorkers, including those in his own party? Has Ms. Kennedy or her family promised him something? Has President-Elect Obama, to whom she's reportedly close and for whom she threw Hillary Clinton under the bus in the Democratic primaries, promised him something? Is he feathering his own nest for a future run at higher office, with Kennedy family support? Or is he just caving in to terrific pressure from Ms. Kennedy's well-heeled, well-connected allies, including NYC's "Republican" Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Are the common people--i.e., you and I--utterly helpless to stop this shameless nepotism/cronyism/corruption of the democratic process? If anyone out there has some ideas, speak up! Or, as my lovely sister Patti suggests (see first comment to this post), let's all move to Alaska, where the Governor is principled, competent, and mighty good-lookin' to boot!