Caroline Kennedy’s Moment—A Sad Reflection of Our Times
The probable appointment of Caroline Kennedy, the 51-year-old daughter of former President John Kennedy, to fill Secretary-of-State nominee Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate seat is both laughable and yet a parable for our bankrupt times.
Consider aristocratic entitlement. Ms. Kennedy apparently spends a great deal of her time divided between her Park Avenue Upper-East-Side Manhattan townhouse and her hereditary estate on Martha’s Vineyard. She has had no real experience with the ordinary lives of New Yorkers, either a few dozen blocks away in Harlem (despite a sudden ad hoc lunch last week with the Rev. Sharpton at a soul food diner) or the state’s rural towns to the north.
Ms. Kennedy is about as undiverse as one could imagine. She was educated at exclusively private schools among those of her like race and class. Her financial security is due to either inheritance or marriage; there is no evidence of a self-employed stellar legal or business career. But there is plenty of evidence that Ms. Kennedy reflects the current Democratic Party’s obsession with celebrity and Hollywood-like imagery—as we see from the recent politicking of everyone from Oprah to Sean Penn, the Senate run of comedian Al Franken, and the messianic cult that surrounds Barack Obama, from his vero possumus Latin seal to his mass rallies with Greek temple backdrops.
Press reports suggest that the current political junkie Ms. Kennedy was an erratic voter in the past. In any case, her positions on both state and national issues are perhaps doctrinaire liberal in the Kenndyesque sense. But we can only assume, rather than know, that, since she has not in the past voiced any strong views about anything in any detail. Unlike dozens of veteran, hard-working and savvy New York state and federal office-holders in the Democratic Party, who would be both qualified and happy to serve out Sen. Clinton’s term, Ms. Kennedy has never run for, or held, public office. Her only prerequisites for Senator are her pedigree from her father and her purported celebrity mystique passed on from her mother Jackie. She certainly has shown none of Hillary Clinton’s grittiness, traipsing over the rural haunts of America in a bright blue pantsuit, quaffing boilermakers at biker bars and reinventing herself as a sort of Annie Oakley everywoman, clinging to guns and religion.
In 2007 Ms. Kennedy was, in fact, a strong Hillary Clinton donor and supporter, but jumped ship and joined Obama once he surged in the polls at the beginning of the year, when the national media and the fossilized icons of the Democratic Party underwent some sort of ecstatic catharsis and mass hysteria akin to what Euripides’s Bacchants experienced on Mt. Kithairon.
That savvy metamorphosis into an Obamiac explains Ms. Kennedy’s sudden me-too piggy-backing into national politics. Indeed, her current newfound political zeal seems predicated on the larger Obamania craze, a sort of brand name groupthink in which romantic liberals imagine a return of JFK’s lost Camelot.
Her supporters shrug and in embarrassment cite the similar political dynasties of the Bushes or Clintons, and, mindlessly, point to other familial connections that helped jumpstart contemporary careers as diverse as those of Andrew Cuomo, Richard Daley, or Mitt Romney. But all of these scions of well-connected or famous fathers ran for office, met the public, endured the press corps, and for years lost and won elections—something that heretofore Ms. Kennedy has not yet attempted.
Then there is the problem of pretension. Kennedy’s Harvard and Columbia educations are cited as proof of her qualifications, as well as her authorship of a variety of edited and co-authored books. But there is no reason to believe that her attendance at the Ivy League was any less facilitated by the powers that be than was the caricatured academic career of the similarly well-connected George Bush, likewise a child of a President. And so just as few in the media cited George Bush’s Ivy League degrees as proof of his erudition, why should we do anything different with Ms. Kennedy about whom we know far less than the former successful two-term Texas Governor (who held his own with, or bested, in six televised debates Ivy Leaguers Al Gore and John Kerry?
None of the Kennedy books are works of real scholarship or originality; most instead draw on her family name and reflect insider connections within New York publishing. Her coauthored books with Ellen Alderman on the law are reminiscent of her father’s Profiles in Courage—and the inordinate contributions of Theodore Sorensen in that murky shared endeavor.
Much is recently made of Barack Obama’s evocation of the ‘Best and Brightest’ Kennedy coterie, as he draws heavily on so-called “smart” people from the Ivy League. But the media’s current heavies in the financial meltdown—President George Bush, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, SEC head Chris Cox, former director of Fannie Mae Franklin Rains, and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank all have in common only Harvard degrees, which apparently are requisites to have overseen financial disaster rather than tools to have prevented it.
Finally, there is the third charge of hypocrisy. George Bush, we were told ad nauseam was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple. But when it comes to Ms. Kennedy, her liberal lineage and assumed charisma weirdly nullified the same tired media charges of entitlement that have been customarily leveled against almost every affluent, well-connected Republican politician from Mitt Romney to George Bush.
There were also several liberal media complaints against Gov. Sarah Palin, most prominently three—that she lacked experience for high federal office; that she avoided the media whenever possible; and that she either would not or could not opine on world affairs.
But Gov. Palin had been an elected official for some sixteen years, winning and losing elections until assuming the governorship—always at odds with an entrenched male hierarchy that had run Alaska for years. Through it all, Palin mothered five children without either capital or connections. She endured at the very beginning of her national run a vicious press as interested in ridiculing her as a rube in fancy store-bought clothes as it is catching a glimpse of Caroline’s glitzy labels.
We know in our hearts that Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, who mercilessly grilled pro-life, Christian Sarah Palin with the poor white twang, would pull in their talons—if given the chance to dialogue with Caroline. Yet there is no evidence that Caroline Kennedy knows any more about Waziristan than did Sarah Palin; there is a great deal of evidence that it is far more difficult for a nobody mom of five to make it through the electoral process into national politics from Alaska than it is for a Kennedy daughter of a President to be appointed from the Upper East Side to fill a liberal New York Senate Seat.
Caroline Kennedy is no doubt a fine individual who by all accounts has led an exemplary life. But her proposed appointment to the US Senate is a rare reflection of ourselves—the glittering of the aristocracy in the left’s vision of an otherwise egalitarian America, the notion that blue-chip certification conveys status and wisdom rather than proven excellence through the life-school of hard knocks, and the ethical bankruptcy of the media that has no principled notion of disinterested inquiry, but now serves as an fawning appendage of the Left.
In short, appointing Caroline Kennedy to the Senate from New York tells us a lot more about ourselves than it does even her.