Fates propel Caroline Kennedy toward U.S. Senate

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Dec. 16, 2008 at 3:38 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- There is a sense of fitting symbolism to Caroline Kennedy's agreement to seek the appointment to Sen. Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat.

Kennedy appears to have thought long and hard about taking the political plunge she has avoided all her life. But in typical Kennedy family fashion, once she made her decision, she threw all her formidable energy and influence into seeking it.

Kennedy has been making calls and putting together money and a team. She certainly seems serious about seeking the position. If appointed, she would be stepping into the shoes of her uncle, assassinated Sen. Robert Kennedy, as a U.S. Senator from New York. And she would be taking office, movingly, as her uncle Sen. Teddy Kennedy, D-Mass., is dying of a malignant brain tumor after 46 years in the Senate.

Kennedy would be assured of massive clout on New York state's behalf with incoming President-elect Barack Obama, far more so than any other likely candidate. On Jan. 27 she threw her support behind Obama at a time when his victory over Clinton in the long and grueling Democratic national primary campaign was a far from sure thing, and that support mattered.

It is also the case that Obama has revered Caroline's late father, assassinated President John F. Kennedy, all his life. The pattern of many of Obama's Cabinet appointments clearly reflects JFK's influence and example, from his desire for bipartisanship in crafting foreign and national security policy to his determination to boost the influence, prestige and policymaker power of serious scientists at the highest level of government.

The argument that Kennedy lacks experience and would only owe her appointment to nepotism does not hold water. Plenty of senators have been appointed by state governors to vacant U.S. Senate seats over the past 220 years on far more spurious grounds. The appointment of sons, daughters and widows of deceased senators has been routine. So has the appointment of spineless political machine puppets to simply rubber-stamp whatever their local version of Tammany Hall told them to do.

More lawyers, for better or worse, have served in the U.S. Senate than any other profession. Kennedy is a qualified and experienced lawyer with her qualifications from Harvard and Cornell universities. Her powerful intellect, high standard of public morality and ethics, and clear-cut views on national issues are known to all.

There has never been any scandal associated with her name. Her aloofness from any personal active involvement in the political profession can only redound to her benefit. From Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, regular politics as practiced in both main U.S. parties has been mired in more sleaze and disgrace than ever. Getting some outside fresh blood into the Senate is exactly what that moribund old chamber needs.

Kennedy has been active in public life for decades. She has raised scores of millions of dollars for charity. She is an experienced and effective veteran editor and journalist. She can communicate far better than most senators. She has a record of moral and political courage in speaking out on unpopular issues. She would be an adornment to the Senate.

It might be a bit much to think of Kennedy as reviving the old allure of Camelot-on-the-Hudson as Slate's Today's Papers called it. Before she wins the appointment, she will have to fend off the challenge for the seat by New York State Attorney General and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo is a very good state attorney general, and he was an excellent secretary cleaning up HUD. He would be an ornament either in the Senate or in the Obama Cabinet. But he would basically be a good example of politics as usual. He would lack the charisma, the fresh perspective and energy, the optimism and the sense of closure that appointing the clearly qualified daughter of John Kennedy to the U.S. Senate would unleash.

Also, the appointment would be for only two years, and if Kennedy couldn't cut the mustard, Cuomo would be the clear front-runner for her seat then.

The fates, however, seem strongly on Kennedy's side. New York Gov. David Paterson is said to favor Kennedy and to be attracted by the boost her name will give him when he runs for re-election on the same ballot in two years.

Obama certainly will favor her for the appointment. Her children are grown. John "Jack" Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg, the youngest of her three children, is already 15. And Kennedys have the challenge and taste of campaigning in their genes. Besides, if Kennedy does well in the Senate, she may yet find the possibility of a vice presidential appointment or even a presidential campaign of her own in 2016 surprisingly achievable. In any case, she stands ready to ace the challenges of the Senate. Her entire life has prepared her for it.

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