Saturday, December 06, 2008

Caroline Kennedy for Senate?: Royalty Lives On

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg has spoken with New York's governor regarding the Senate seat which may be open soon, should Hillary Clinton's nomination for Secretary of State go through.* Her cousin, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has confirmed that she is interested in the post.

Kennedy may be qualified for the US Senate. For one thing, unlike Clinton, she's actually lived in New York. In fact, she's played an important role in raising money for the public schools in New York City.

But if Kennedy were, say, Caroline Smith, do you think that Governor David Paterson would have even taken her call?

For that matter, do you think that Hillary Rodham Clinton, late of Illinois, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. could have decided on the brink of the 200o senatorial election in New York to move to the Empire State and run to take the place of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a lifelong New Yorker and thinker on public policy who became one of the best senators in the history of the Republic? (That, by the way, is an assessment shared by conservative columnist George Will regarding the late Democratic senator.)

And would George W. Bush have had a shot at becoming governor of Texas in 1994 and then, President of the United States?

Dynasties, whether at the local, state, or national levels, have not been unknown in the US, of course. Right now, I'm reading Francis Russell's 1976 book, Adams: An American Dynasty, telling the stories of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and their progeny. The Adamses produced two presidents and a vice presidential nominee, not to mention a few business magnates and historians. But each worked long in the vineyards of public life before running for major offices.

Bushes, Clintons, and possibly, Kennedys, don't need to bother with such pedestrian pursuits. But is royalty the way we want to go in the United States?

If Paterson appoints Kennedy to the Senate seat, it might be applauded by those who think that the person who takes Clinton's place must be a woman or must have star power. It might even keep New York Democrats from going to war with one another; arguing against Caroline Kennedy in the Senate might, for Dems, be a bit like arguing against Santa Claus appearing in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving parade.

But what are we saying to young people about folks who get elected or appointed to office merely because they have the right last names? Parents might say something like: "If you work hard, commit yourself to what's best for the country, and undertake a lifetime of service to others, good daughter or good son, you'll get to watch others get the senate seats and the governors' chairs."

Is that the message we want our kids to receive? Or do we want this to be America?

[I've discussed this subject before. See here, here, and here.]

*That should probably be an iffier proposition than it is in light of Clinton's problem with the emoluments clause of the US Constitution.

More on Kennedy's interest in the NY Senate seat can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Pilgrim said...

I heard an early AM local radio host here saying Bill was going to get Hillary's seat. I must not have been fully awake.

Mark Daniels said...

There has been talk of Bill Clinton being appointed to the seat that's scheduled to be vacated by his wife. But the reports are that he has taken himself out of consideration.

Only one other president went to the Senate after leaving the White House. Like Clinton, Andrew Johnson was impeached and like Clinton, he was not removed from office. The Tennessee legislature elected him to the Senate, an event that he regarded as vindication.

John Quincy Adams, like his father disdainful of parties and unable to get much traction during his one term as president, served in the US House of Representatives after he left the presidency. He served in the House for nineteen years, felled by a stroke while on the House floor and dying in a room close to the House chamber shortly thereafter. He was an effective member of the House.

Both Johnson and Adams, our seventeenth and sixth presidents respectively, had something to prove after their failed White House tenures. I don't think that Clinton feels that he has to prove anything, at least in Washington. I also think that he fears that he could cause problems for his wife in her new position of Secretary of State.

By the way, in his maiden speech as a member of the House of Representatives, a young Andrew Johnson undertook a harsh and unseemly attack on the elderly Adams. This kind of thing was characteristic of Johnson, certainly one of the most graceless, hateful people ever to serve as president.