In 1980, Edward M. Kennedy ran to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from incumbent Jimmy Carter. Early enthusiasm for Kennedy’s candidacy gave way to mystification and finally, indifference. Why? Well, for one thing, in an interview with that era’s version of Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, the Massachusetts senator couldn’t say why he was running for president. In the end, his flimsy rationale appeared to be, “I’m a Kennedy. It’s time for me to fulfill my destiny.”
Voters decided that Kennedy’s destiny was to remain in the Senate. (Folks from both parties who have served with him say that he has been an effective senator in the intervening years.)
In a New York Times interview, Caroline Kennedy seems to be afflicted with the same inability to explain the reasons she should be appointed to the US Senate by Governor Paterson. More than that, she seems to offer the same rationale for the appointment she seeks: She’s a Kennedy.
Indeed, Kennedy’s public image may be taking its first buffeting as a result of an interview which makes her appear not only, as her interviewers observed, “vague,” but also petulant, afflicted with the same sense of entitlement that torpedoed her uncle’s presidential bid twenty-eight years ago.
Of course, a big difference between Edward Kennedy’s bid for the presidency and Caroline Kennedy’s push to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s unexpired Senate term is that the first involved an election. Had Ted Kennedy been convincing enough, he could have taken the Dem nomination fair and square. Caroline Kennedy has no such opportunity. If Governor Paterson appoints her to Clinton’s seat now, he will inevitably draw comparisons to John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin: Kennedy is someone about whom serious doubts regarding her readiness for office have been raised by her conduct in the past three weeks. Like Palin, she will be seen as an “identity” candidate, someone whose image is more symbolic than substantive.
My unsolicited advice to Caroline Kennedy: If you’re serious about taking up the family business, prepare yourself for a 2010 or 2012 run for a House or Senate seat. Prove yourself to voters. An appointment to the Senate now will have the smell of dynastic politics and put both your party’s hold on the seat and your apparent desire for an effective political career at risk.