From the moment Caroline Kennedy asked New York Governor David Paterson to consider appointing her to fill Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat, critics were quick to note that not only had Kennedy never run for even a low-level political office, but she had not even held a full-time job of any sort in a number of years. In response, Kennedy’s admirers sprang up to defend her candidacy for the Senate post and to dismiss whatever doubts others were expressing about her qualifications.
Lanny Davis, the longtime Democrat operative and former Special Counsel to President Clinton, described Kennedy as a “highly intelligent, personally gifted” woman with “great interpersonal skills.” “What more do you need to be an effective U.S. Senator?” he said.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, noting that Kennedy has “lived in government and politics her whole life,” proclaimed: “I think it [Kennedy’s appointment] would be a tremendous thing.... We have a lot of stars from New York. Bobby Kennedy. Hillary Clinton. I think Caroline Kennedy would be perfect.”
Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a Democrat who represents Rochester and a stretch of western New York, described Kennedy as “someone of great stature” with a “superb intellect.”
Former New York City mayor Ed Koch gushed, “When you look at her, and you know what the Kennedys are capable of and you know the family she comes from … think of the DNA.”
The well known attorney Lawrence Otis Graham endorsed Kennedy on grounds that she is a “constitutional expert.” (It should be noted that in her 1991 book In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, Kennedy characterizes the Constitution as a document that “is necessarily imprecise” because it consists only of “a few hundred words written two centuries ago.” By logical extension, such a perspective views the Constitution as a document open to wide-ranging interpretation and judicial activism—a vision that squares perfectly with that of president-elect Obama and the Democrat Party generally.)
Michael Daly of the New York Daily News lauded Kennedy as a woman filled with “her father’s spirit,” “a keen understanding of the law,” “a love of poetry,” and “a vibrant patriotism.” He praised her further because “she grasps the importance of schooling” and “passionately embraces what is most alive and truly important.”
Mark Nickolas of the Huffington Post cited such Kennedy credentials as “the remarkable life” she has lived; “her Harvard undergraduate degree and Columbia Law School degree”; her status as “an attorney, an editor, and a published author”; and the fact that she hails “from one of the greatest families ever to serve in the United States Congress.”
On the AlterNet website, Michael Carmichael, lauding Kennedy’s “remarkable” qualifications, waxed poetic: “The image of a U.S. Senate graced by two Kennedys both bearing the flame of JFK and conjuring the era of Camelot presents a potent concoction of political magic at a critical juncture in American history now seemingly on the threshold of a resurgence of progressive energy and the promise of positive change in the Obama Era.”
Filmmaker Michael Moore, for his part, was way ahead of the curve. As early as August, he had been encouraging Obama to select Caroline Kennedy as his vice presidential running mate because she “is NOT a professional politician, but someone who is well-known and beloved by people across the political spectrum; someone who, like Obama, spoke out against the war; someone who has a good and generous heart, who will be cheered by the rest of the world; someone whom we’ve known and loved and admired all our lives and who has dedicated her life to public service and to the greater good for all.” What about relevant experience, you ask? Moore supplied a ready answer, explaining that Kennedy had “traveled the world and met with its leaders, giving [her] much experience on the world stage, a stage [she has] been on since [she was] a little girl.”
Other Kennedy supporters were no more troubled by her dearth of political seasoning than was Michael Moore. The aforementioned Lawrence Otis Graham observed, “Senator Hillary Clinton has served New York quite well during the last eight years and she, too, had never been an elected official.” Rep. Louise Slaughter concurred: “You know, who ever said you had to have had elected office before? Hillary didn’t.” Lanny Davis reasoned, “I value experience. But experience is not always a determinant for success.” While journalist Mark Nickolas conceded that experience “clearly” matters, he essentially maintained that questions about Kennedy’s experience (or lack thereof) should be postponed until after she has served in the Senate for two years: “We want the best experience we can get in a candidate for any public office, and Kennedy would have to defend hers in a 2010 special election.” (Under state law, whoever is appointed by the governor would have to win a special election in 2010 in order to finish out the last two years of Senator Clinton’s term.)
As per questions about Kennedy’s philosophical and political positions on various issues of import, Ed Koch said matter-of-factly: “You will find out where she stands when she runs in 2010.” It seemed not to occur to Mr. Koch that many average Americans might prefer to learn who this Wonder Woman really is, and where she “stands,” prior to her coronation rather than after it.
Among the more notable items on Kennedy’s resume is that from October 2002 to August 2004, she worked three days per week as Director of Strategic Partnerships for New York City’s schools. By the end of her tenure there, she had raised more than $70 million for an academy to train “reform-minded” principals. Moreover, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein credited her with bringing in a $51 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s leading funders of leftwing causes. If fundraising ability, rather than political experience or proven political acumen, is the foremost qualification for an aspiring senator, then it would seem that Kennedy is indeed qualified.
This year, Kennedy spent several weeks campaigning for Barack Obama in battleground states. She was also appointed by Obama to work alongside Eric Holder (whom Obama would select as his Attorney General after the election) on the vice presidential search committee that ultimately settled on Joe Biden.
The rest of Kennedy’s resume generally consists of her participation on various nonprofit boards, including those of the American Ballet Theater, the Commission on Presidential Debates, and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She is also an adviser to the Harvard Institute of Politics, which describes itself as “a memorial” to Kennedy’s father. Perhaps most notably, she serves on the board of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDEF), which originated as the legal wing of the NAACP; though today these are two separate entities, they share essentially the same worldviews and agendas. Kennedy’s intimate alliance with the NAACP gives insight into the political core beliefs she has generally managed to shroud in silence.
On August 8, 2002, Kennedy co-hosted—along with Johnnie Cochran, the famed attorney who defended O.J. Simpson in 1995—an NAACP-LDEF event designed to draw attention to the organization’s effort to overturn the recent convictions of several dozen black Texas residents who had been arrested in a 1999 drug sting. Among those in attendance at this soiree were Harvard’s Lani Guinier (whose 1993 nomination as President Clinton’s Attorney General was derailed by revelations of her support for proportional representation in local elections) and Charles Ogletree (a Harvard law professor who had taught both Barack and Michelle Obama in the late 1980s).
The NAACP supports racial preferences, a position founded on the fervent belief that white racism in the United States remains an intractable, largely undiminished, phenomenon. (According to Elaine Jones, who headed the NAACP-LDEF from 1993 to 2004, the Ku Klux Klan’s racist views “are shared quietly” by many white Americans.) In addition, the NAACP is in favor of reparations payments to black Americans, and it supports racial gerrymandering to virtually guarantee black electoral victories in targeted voting districts. (The aforementioned Elaine Jones once said that calls to abandon gerrymandering were founded on a desire to “torch the fundamental rights of African Americans, Hispanics and others to be included as participatory citizens in this democracy.”)
The NAACP also seeks a federal prohibition against the “insidious practice” of racial profiling; it condemns proposed laws that would require all voters to show some form of federally approved photo-identification and proof of citizenship, characterizing such measures as being “akin to a modern day ‘poll tax’” that would “disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority Americans”; it favors redistributive economic policies “dedicated to closing the gap of disparities faced by people of color”; and it opposes the Patriot Act as an assault on civil liberties.
If embracing these worldviews is a qualification for the U.S. Senate seat from New York, then perhaps a case can be made for the notion that Kennedy is qualified.
But we cannot escape the undeniable reality that Kennedy’s objective credentials are dwarfed by those of most other U.S. Senators who have represented New York State in recent decades:
Democrat Charles Schumer, who has been in the Senate since 1999, previously spent 18 years in the House of Representatives and 6 years in the New York State Assembly.
Republican Alfonse D’Amato, who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1999, had previously spent 15 years in local government.
Republican Jacob Javits, who served in the Senate from 1957 to 1981, had previously spent 8 years in the House of Representatives and 3 years as New York State Attorney General.
Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Senate from 1977 to 2001, had previously held cabinet or sub-cabinet positions for 15 years under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. He also had spent two years as U.S. Ambassador to India and one year as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
In contrast, Caroline Kennedy’s political “experience” can be summed up in a single sentence: She is John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s daughter. By a remarkable coincidence, the political experience of the senator whose seat she currently covets was, prior to that senator’s election in 2000, similarly expressible in a single sentence: She was William Jefferson Clinton’s wife. In that sense, Caroline Kennedy would appear to be a most appropriate successor to Hillary. She would, like Hillary, bring “celebrity” to the office—and no less a statesman than Senator Harry Reid, the sage who once declared “The Iraqi war is hopeless and the situation in Iraq is same as it was in Vietnam,” has assured us that this would be “a tremendous thing.” An adviser to Governor David Paterson fully understands the seductiveness of Kennedy’s iconic status. “The upside of her candidacy is that the 2010 ballot will read Kennedy - Paterson,” said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “David craves national attention and money. If you connect the dots, it leads to her [Kennedy].”
In a televised debate during the Democratic Party’s 1962 U.S. Senate primary, Ted Kennedy’s opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Edward McCormack, urged voters not to let themselves be mesmerized by the Kennedy surname. “If his name were Edward Moore, with his qualifications … [his] candidacy would be a joke, but nobody’s laughing because his name is not Edward Moore. It’s Edward Moore Kennedy.”
It is possible that a similar joke may soon be played out in the U.S. Senate.