Sunday, December 28, 2008


If you're an American of a certain age, Caroline Kennedy is iconic in your cultural frame of reference. Those idyllic photos of the six-year-old Caroline with her sandy-haired dad, President John F. Kennedy are ingrained in your psyche. The image of Caroline, in perfect little girl coat and white gloves, descending the Capitol steps with her mother, Jackie, on the day of JFK's funeral. And then the prevailing image of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg as the cultural doyenne of Manhattan, the cerebral author, wife and mother. It is all sort of perfect, is it not?

About a nano-second after Hillary Clinton was named Secretary of State to be, news of Kennedy's desire to replace her in the U.S. Senate spanned the globe. Media loved it, we mid-20th century babies ate it up, and reporters could not wait to ink it up in every daily coast to coast, and digitize it on every news and information site from The Drudge Report to Perez Hilton. Hot copy? You bet. Jalapeno hot. Pamela Anderson Hot. Eliot Spitzer hot, but in a good way.

On December 27, Kennedy sat down with the big one - the New York Times. Speaking to political reporters Nicholas Confessore and David M. Halbfinger, Kennedy waxed prophetic about, well, not much. In her lengthy interview she refers to "issues that are important to me," but never really mentions what they are. She gushes about her uncle Teddy, but never quite gets around to stating which initiatives of his she would champion, especially in the event of his sudden retirement. She claims, "No one has a more supportive husband than I do," but she fails to explain why she has essentially dropped the last name of Schlossberg. When directly asked what kind of management experience she has and what sort of staff she has, she responds only, "Obviously, you need to build a team." The management question garners no response.

Here is a woman who was born into the political process and was raised on campaign strategy. Yet when asked to allow the electorate insight into her positions, views on critical issues and plans for transition into public service, she offers nothing. Our full hearts want Caroline Kennedy to be a winner. The entire nation has watched her lose her family, one by one, in devastating and sometimes unnatural ways. But our increasing political savvy tells us to step back and take a beat. Maybe Caroline is not the appropriate Kennedy to maintain the longstanding American tradition of keeping a Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

As an aside, it is probably worth mentioning that in her interview with the New York Times, she began several of her responses with "um," and more than 100 times, used the phrase "You know." Here is a snippet of the transcript from that interview:

These are distinctively critical times in the U.S. Every person sent to represent the electorate needs a defined legislative mission and a clear understanding of the process by which the mission can be accomplished. No one doubts the intelligence and sincerity of Caroline Kennedy. She has gained the respect of the American people, but not as a legislator. If the country were on more stable footing, perhaps the people of New York could afford to offer Kennedy the time it would take her to learn the system and become an effective Senator. But stability is not in site now, and perhaps Kennedy's formidable skills might be better used in the diplomatic arena. Kennedy already has a respectable alliance with President-elect Obama. The new President knows talent when he sees it - he will find the best way for Kennedy to use hers.

To state this in its most simplistic terms: There are more than three million Americans. There are 100 U.S. Senators. Shouldn't those 100 individuals be the brightest, the best, the most talented among us? Should they not be people who have a clear plan to rescue the nation from its current economic quagmire? Should they not be people who know how to move a critical piece of legislation through the system and fast track it to benefit the constituents? And even though the current situation requires the Governor of New York to appoint a Senator to replace Clinton, should that person not be one who has earned the position by a clear demonstration of commitment, experience and determination to work for the citizens? Unfortunately, Kennedy's resume is not terribly substantive, and certainly not ready for legislative prime time.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

I concur, Paul - and it's painful in some ways. With Sen. Kennedy's health not so good and no one to take up his fight on so many good issues, I wanted to believe that Caroline was the one who could. She'd be a great diplomat .. maybe following in Grandpa Joe's footsteps ..and still, I have doubts. Bright, personable and a Kennedy are just not enough for me.