Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg has told Governor David Patterson she is interested in taking Hillary Clinton’s place once Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state. This has caused a debate, chiefly among Democrats, as to her qualifications for the job. I find that to be humorous, coming from a political party who are one and all behind putting Al Franken in the Senate!
Asked why she was trading decades of carefully cultivated privacy for the sharp scrutiny of a Senate bid, she pointed to her work as a lawyer, an education advocate and an author of books on topics including constitutional law.
“These are issues that I care so much about, and I understand that, really, I have been trying to work on them as a private citizen,” she said in a two-minute news conference. “But really, to solve our problems, I think government is the place where people need to come together.”
“I feel this commitment, and this is a time when nobody can afford to sit out. And I hope that I have something to offer,” Kennedy said.
Widely described as extraordinarily shy, self-deprecating and down-to-earth, Kennedy has tended to limit her forays into the public sphere to nonpartisan activity. Then, after the New York Times had endorsed Hillary Clinton for President as expected, Caroline showed keen political instinct, timing and leadership in her op-ed letter to the Times endorsing Barack Obama. As it turns out, this may have been an event that turned the corner on the Obama campaign. The following day, her Uncle Ted followed suit and the Democratic Party was headed in a new direction.
The entire presidential race exposed a weakness in leadership and a decline of substance in the Democratic Party. The presidency is a management position, and the Democratic rank and file has shown little interest in its competent managers. The trend seems to be the more devisive the better.
There will be none of this with Caroline Kennedy. In fact, her presence in the Senate and as a political representative of New York will have a restorative effect. It will help to reverse this trend by raising the standard of leadership back to the highest standard.
There are a number of high-profile candidates for Clinton’s Senate seat — including Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose last name carries some star power of its own in the Empire State — but their odds grew just a bit steeper when stacked against the wattage of a storied Democratic dynasty.
Robert Kennedy was elected to the Senate with few ties to his adopted home state, but his niece’s New York roots run deep.
Jacqueline Kennedy relocated to New York City after her husband’s assassination in 1963, with children Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr.
Caroline Kennedy has spent most of her life in the city, working there after graduating from Harvard, meeting her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, on the job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and attending Columbia Law School there.
Her most prominent public roles to date involved overseeing her father’s presidential library and presenting the annual Profiles in Courage Award.
She’s also edited several books, from a volume of children’s poetry and an updated edition of her father’s book “Profiles in Courage” to a collection of patriotic verse (“A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love.”)
Most of her leadership positions have been based in the arts: hosting the annual nationally televised Kennedy Center Honors in Washington and serving as the honorary chairwoman of the American Ballet Theatre, as her mother had.
In a 2002 Time magazine interview promoting the updated “Profiles in Courage,” Kennedy would not rule out the possibility of a run for public office.
“I don’t have any plans to do that right now,” she said. “I don’t plan ahead. My kids are young, and I’m really happy to be able to be around. But I do care about issues, and I’m interested in them. So I don’t see that now, but you know, I have a long life ahead of me.”
As for her experience and qualifications, what about RFK? His only public service was a non-elected position as Attorney General, yet he served the state of New York well and may have been a fine President had he not taken the route through a kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel. And Ted Kennedy had not been elected to a lower office before he became the Senator from Massachusetts and he now “the Lion of the Senate” and revered by most if not all of his colleagues.
No, the argument about not having previously been elected to anything is not what the complaining is really about. It is more about envy that she could be considered for that position in the first place.
Caroline Kennedy has a chance to do something that isn’t done much in Democratic politics lately. She has the name and clout to get things done and she has the ability to bring some class back into the party. Though out her life, she has carried herself with grace and strength through tragedies that would be more than most of us could handle.
While I doubt that I will agree with her on most issues, I would welcome anyone bringing those qualities to that side of the aisle in the Senate.