After more than a week of does she or doesn't she chatter, Obama supporter and childhood education activist Caroline Kennedy has made her intentions for Hillary Clinton's New York senate more clear. The New York Times recently wrote that Kennedy wants the job.
Some are surprised. Kennedy has spent nearly all of her life out of the political fray. While her cousins ran for office, she worked on her charities, wrote and edited books and mostly remained a political wallflower/family symbol as the only surviving child of President John F. Kennedy. While educated and politically curious, she simply didn't seem interested and who could blame her? Her entire family tree is littered with politicians, some successful, some not, some who like their Ambien and alcohol too much and some who faced an untimely demise.
Politics is an ugly business and you have to be one part Messiah complex, one part biggest ego in the world to withstand the dramarama that surrounds it. You have to be think you're Allen Iverson, that you're "The Answer" to the problems of your constituents. That you can deliver ... hopefully better than Iverson.
This is a compliment to Kennedy in the fact that I, quite honestly, did not think she had the ego for it.
Kennedy sank her gigantic familial chompers in for a huge bite of the political apple this year when she threw her reputation and last name behind Barack Obama for president. Apparently she is hungry for more.
But not everyone is skipping down Camelot memory lane. Especially those who supported Hillary Clinton in her presidential run (and that was the vast majority of New York Democrats), those who feel they've politely worked hard and waited their turn (that would be another family name, Cuomo, as in NY State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo) and those who involuntarily roll their eyes upon hearing the name Kennedy.
The United States of America doesn't have a monarchy, but that doesn't stop Americans to choosing to worship the political dynasties of their liking. The Republicans love the Bushes. Democrats still overwhelmingly love the Kennedys.
But the Kennedys are shrouded in desire and mystique because of when they came to political prominence and the life altering events that surrounded them. You can't get a much bigger backdrop than the 1960s, defined by war, civil unrest, injustice, violence, youth movements/youth culture and ideological warfare. If you couldn't make a name for yourself that decade it simply couldn't be done. But two assassinations shared by one political family was enough to wrap the Kennedy name up in romance. And so the name came to embody a certain American mythology. While the story is rooted in truth, the Kennedys are just people, extremely rich and influential people, but if all the boys and their alcohol/drug/women troubles have taught us anything, they are flawed.
A last name doesn't guarantee greatness.
But I suppose my larger point is -- why? Why does Caroline Kennedy want this job? Is this about the people, the party or the family name? Or is it all three? Are their individuals more qualified? Actress/activist Fran Drescher, quite strangely, wants the job. A reader floated Harold Ford Jr.'s name to me as a possible appointee for Clinton's seat. He was a supporter of her and has become more of a New Yorker, leaving his native Tennessee and his father's sphere of influence. (Yet another case for nepotism, but in New York the Ford name has less tread.)
Rev. Al Sharpton as endorsed Kennedy, yet a New York Democrat has compared Kennedy to "J. Lo," in the regard that they both have name recognition. How does this affect New York Governor David Paterson, who has to make this choice? Kennedy could definitely pull the money needed to hold the seat in 2010. And she has the name recognition. After all, Paterson would also be up for election in 2010 and it wouldn't hurt to have some attention grabber on the ticket, but ... what is this?
I was hoping Kennedy wouldn't want the job because you can't talk about Caroline Kennedy as a politician without talking about her family, specifically the mix of martyrs, tragedies and fuck ups that make up the Kennedy political graveyard. And Kennedy has no other political history to discuss other than the family history, turning us all into vulture voyers yet again. And people complain about "affirmative action" when it involves us at the bottom of the class warfare food chain, but isn't the potential Kennedy appointment the more classic case of "affirmative action?" As in, her last name is Kennedy therefore everyone acted affirmatively in her appointment?
I'm not saying Kennedy's not qualified. Qualifications for all elected offices are bare bones to make it easier for anyone to run. She's highly intelligent and politically astute and is easily the most likeable Kennedy, but 90 percent of her likeability is based in the fact that she is an activist who raises money for charities. She's seems nice and is non-controversial. But it's hard to get excited about this unless you like reruns. This isn't a "Great Gastby" scenario of the self-made politico, like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, who had no name, money or status to trade for power. This is romance based on an old, doomed relationship in hopes it will be like the love before.
Will this be love redux or is Gov. Paterson about to potentially pass over better contenders to please those who can't get over our lack of monarchy? Is there someone else who would be better for the job? The answer is probably yes, but I'm almost positive that if Kennedy wants the seat it is truly hers to be had.
The name is still in demand.