Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is Caroline qualified?

Let's ask the oracle...
Article I, Section 3.

...No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.
Check, check and triple check.

So why all the blogospheric dissent? Some, it seems, are distressed that Ms. Kennedy is, as Markos complains, dispensing with the "...pesky voters by simply ringing up the governor," a process Kevin Drum bemoans as "...just a little too Habsburgian…" Jane Hamsher, who staked out her spot at the front of the anti-Kennedy line early, opines that "It appears Ms. Kennedy thinks that US Senate seats are something to lobbied for amongst political elites when one decides one wants them."

Gubernatorial appointment may or may not be the best way to fill temporary Senate vacancies, but in the state of New York, they're apparently the law. "Ringing up the governor," and making an impression on people who are influential with the governor (which would seem to make them definitive "political elites") are exactly the things the next Senator must do. Fear not for democracy. In less than two years, that Senator, whoever it may be, must face the voters in order to continue in office. Granted, it may not be ideally egalitarian, but there it is. It's the law.

Chris Bowers aptly sums up the heart of the remaining anti arguments - that Kennedy lacks the experience and qualifications for the office…
Frankly, I consider [Kennedy] to be undeserving of the seat, given that she has never won an election and that basically her only qualification would be her family name.
Her electoral experience, it seems, speaks to political concerns (can she beat Rudy?) rather than qualifications. It's crystal gazing at best, assuming facts not in evidence both to her abilities and her ambitions. It's not difficult to imagine more than a couple scenarios that might make a two year caretaker term attractive to Caroline Kennedy, and potentially helpful to a possible successor.

As to her electoral prospects, she is blessed with high favorability among New York voters, a web of contacts both inherited and built and access to a formidable family fundraising operation. It's true that a campaign would place her in a personal spotlight she's not typically sought, but she's hardly been a recluse. She's done tours and television appearances for her books on the Constitution and civil liberties and in recent years has become the go-to Kennedy for appearances at state funerals and such.

Bowers' jab about her qualifications being limited to her surname ignores a career that, if not in the public spotlight, has consistently been in the public interest. The primary interests of that career - funding for public education, protection of civil liberties and support for the arts - are shared, I hope, by Democrats generally. Her success in advancing those interests as a private citizen should count for something, then, when considering qualifications for public service. Not knowing what Caroline Kennedy's been up to for the last few decades isn't the same as knowing she hasn't been up to anything.

The remaining anti argument centers around the dynastic aspects of having yet another Senator Kennedy. While its true that familial background is an insufficient qualification for office, there's a reasonable cast to be made that it is a relevant one. There have been political families at every level of government throughout our history. Some cases may have been matters of rank nepotism, but it seems inarguable that few can better know the risks, rigors and rewards of a political life than members of political families (and perhaps no political family knows them better than the Kennedys.) It's one of the reasons another leading prospect for the appointment is named Cuomo.

I don't have a lot of skin in the New York Senate selection. I'd like a Democrat who will vote for the leadership package and support the new President. Andy Cuomo would likely do fine, as would Caroline Kennedy and any number of people of a lower national profile. The Governor has an important choice to make among fine choices. I wish him wisdom and I wish him well.

Is Caroline Kennedy entitled to a seat in the US Senate by birthright? No, of course not. Should her heritage be an automatic disqualification, though? No, again.

Does, on the other hand, this woman who has served our Party, our nation and her state and community with quiet dignity for decades deserve the degree of general (and generally ignorant) contempt pouring forth from so many quarters?

Absolutely not.

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