December 16th, 2008
11:53 AM ET

Who plays...who pays?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/15/kennedy.senate/art.kennedy.gi.jpg caption="Caroline Kennedy has her eyes on the New York Senate seat."]

Joe Klein

I've met Caroline Kennedy a few times and she seems like a good person. Compared to many children of the rich and famous, she has lived her life quietly, modestly, in exemplary fashion. She has worked hard for worthy causes; those who've worked with her say she is intelligent and self-effacing. Or was self-effacing. You can't really say that she is now, having thrust herself into the midst of the selection process for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. By doing so, she has displayed an eminently New York quality: chutzpah.

Indeed, Kennedy's play seems very much of a moment recently passed–the dynasty years of American politics, when Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes (and other, less obtrusive dynasties–Udalls, Cuomos) cluttered our public life. There is nothing new about this. We've had our Adamses and Roosevelts in epochs past. But the combination of dynasty and celebrity in a too-hot media age has proved a diversion from good governance. That was part of the message sent by Barack Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton in the primaries–Clinton was, and is, a fine public servant, but she came attached to a moveable media carnival. There was, I think, a gnawing, somewhat subconscious sense that in this difficult time we needed to turn the page from the carnival years. The Era of Big Strange Political Families was over. (That goes for you, too, Jesse Jackson Jr.)

If nothing else, Barack Obama's transition demonstrates his intent to launch an era of Real Serious Governance. He has chosen well outside the standard political fast-food menu in some cases–James (OOPs: Steven) Chu, the Secretary of Energy comes to mind. And I'd hope that Governor David Paterson might consider a similar sort of selection–an honorary, non-political (but Democratic) appointee, a person of real, world-class, distinction who would never normally serve in the Senate, to grace the seat until the next election–if he hasn't already been bum-rushed into the Kennedy coronation. Certainly, New York State is filled with extraordinary people. Here are four:

  • Dr. Harold Varmus, former head of the National Institutes of Health, now director of the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer hospital. He could add real value to the Senate's health insurance debate.
  • Geoffrey Canada has spent his life doing extraordinary work with the young people, especially the young men, of Harlem. He would be a strong, African-American voice for the poor.
  • Vishaka Desai, president of the Asia Society would be the first member of the Senate born in India. She would bring great knowledge about the world's hottest hot-spot to the Senate, plus great expertise in the areas of education and culture.
  • Judge Judith Kaye, the brilliant chief justice of New York's highest court, soon to retire.


Filed under: Raw Politics
soundoff (13 Responses)

    A free pass for Kennedy! NO WAY!!!

    December 16, 2008 at 6:26 pm |
  2. Jim Steuding

    I'm honestly a little bit sick and tired of 'Kennedys' in government. Contrary to accepted beliefs...I think it was Ted Kennedys 'jumping to' endorse Obama that 'killed ' Hillary Clinton insofar as the Domocratic Nomination is concerned. Because, you see, – -the illustious Kennedys just cant stand the idea that some 'other' family (such as the Clintons) just might take the spotlight..and the control of the Democratic Party, away from them!
    I'm not a resident o New Yoprk...but if I were I most certianly would NOT support Caroline Kennedy-whatever-her-married-name-is for the U.S. Senate.
    She should stick to her 'Humanitarian busywork'. It would give her a chance to 'return' some of the millions of dollars her family has 'taken' from the citizens of the world in their many, many endeavors.
    (P.S. I 'revere' John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy as much as anyone. But...'Ted' and his neice, Caroline...can go take a flying leap ....somewhere!))

    Jim in wisconsin

    December 16, 2008 at 4:05 pm |
  3. concern/denver Colorado

    carolyn will only be good becasue she isn't old to the governorment ..something new ...butyet with education ...and know how ..ablility ....she will be a good part for change ...

    December 16, 2008 at 4:05 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    Despite the Kennedy name, I think Caroline would be a very good choice for the Senate seat. Everyone talks about how she isn't qualified and it reminds me of the same talk a few months back about Obama not being qualified to be President yet he's going to be. Caroline should be assessed on her merits and what she can bring to the Senate seat; it may be a lot more than is currently evident; and she shouldn't be automatically dismissed because of her last name. There are a lot of Kennedys working quietly for the public good when they really probably don't need to work at all. I'm glad they are so civic minded and generous with their time and talents.

    December 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm |
  5. helen harris

    I think C. Kennedy would be a great Senate for NY. She has given more of herself to help the world than Ms Clinton. Sure she comes from the big family but she seems to be honest and working to make this world a better place.

    December 16, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  6. Larry

    What if she doesn't get her own way in the senate; will she run to uncle Ted and cry?

    December 16, 2008 at 3:45 pm |
  7. voter

    Instead of rejecting her based on her name, let's take a minute to see what she has done. I really would like to know what's she done as a private citizen. On the surface, she seems the very type of person Klein wants to fill the appointment.

    December 16, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  8. dan w.

    I'm curious of Joe Klein's opinons regarding Hillary when she was running. I find his commentary reactionary and too stringent. I think it needs to be done on a case by case basis. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    December 16, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Mindy Chatsworth, Ca.

    I am concerned about the animosity towards Caroline Kennedy being appointed to Hillary Clinton's senate seat. It seems that some are determined to diminish her qualifications because she is a member of a political dynasty. What a shame!

    Why Caroline Kennedy is willing to subject herself to this very public life, along with the inevitable slings and arrows from Kennedy bashers, I just don't know. Maybe she should remain a private citizen and continue her good works. But I am concerned at those who think she should be denied this appointment because they either don't like the Kennedys, don't like political dynasties, or don't like the fact that she has never held public office.

    At least let his woman be considered on her considerable merits and not be dismissed outright because of an ingrained prejudice against her political pedigree.

    December 16, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  10. LisaR

    Why not give Caroline Kennedy a chance? Who's to say that she can't add "real value" to the health insurance debate? She's certainly arming herself with information.

    So she's not African American – I am. Caroline Kennedy's noteriety, might bring more attention to a plight which deserves public attention.
    Caroline is also an attorney.

    I like the fact that she hasn't been immersed in political society all these years. She brings a new "face" to New York's politics that just happens to be a member of Camelot. She's from a strong political family but has followed her diversions. And now, as many of us do once we've raised families and achieved professionally, she has aspirations for the Senate.

    I think she would shine a light on education and poverty and would be the best advocate.

    December 16, 2008 at 2:04 pm |
  11. JC- Los Angeles

    Yet another of the connected few who always seem to get the opportunities; how about a hard working, self made individual for once?

    December 16, 2008 at 1:21 pm |
  12. Michael Odegard

    Anderson, despite the best intentions, the continuation of the "its not what you know, its who you know" mentality will only further debase the integrity of the USA. Its sad that more people don't see the connection between the Blagojevich scandal and the Caroline Kennedy nomination. Both Blaojevich and Kennedy are operating on the assumption that who they know matters more than what they know. I hope some future generation will be able to realize the shift in focus from knowing to networking produced net political and economic failure.

    December 16, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  13. Cindy

    For the first time ever I have to agree with Joe. I think we need to move on from the fiascos and celebrity appointments into government positions. Our country is in shambles and we need to get back to the hard nosed serious government to get it back on course.

    I am sure that Caroline is a great person who has done great things for charity but just because your parents are into politics doesn't mean that you are qualified for it. She has done nothing to show that she has ever even been interested in it. Now she wants to jump over everyone else and get the job.

    And people comparing her to Hillary getting the NY Senate seat is ridiculous. Hillary was the First Lady and has been in politics...working in it all of her adult life. Caroline has stayed totally away from any of it. I didn't think that Hillary was qualified to get the senate seat either so I sure don't think Caroline is.


    December 16, 2008 at 12:12 pm |