12.11.08

Is Caroline Entitled to the Senate?

There are many qualified candidates for Hillary Clinton's newly vacated Senate seat. JFK's daughter isn't one of them.

The chance of Caroline Kennedy being named to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton is an inverse of Mrs. Kennedy’s preparedness for the job. She is an attractive, well-turned-out fundraiser, lawyer, author, homemaker, volunteer, and art-lover who is related intimately to the most celebrated political family since the scattering of the Roosevelts. Her immediate family is forever famous in tragedy, and her larger family has been strangely damaged by accident, misstep and the mysteries of the human heart. Yet celebrity and history are not entitlements to high office. Nor is being an empty nester. (“Her children are grown, and she is ready to move onto a bigger stage,” her cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., told the Associated Press last week.)

Kennedy has written books on constitutional law, reads a good speech, and most recently wrote an intuitive, if self-serving op-ed for The New York Times in which she switched her polite support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama for president. In reward, Obama placed her on his vice-presidential search committee, but it’s hard to see why he needed her to pick ubiquitous Joe Biden.

David Paterson's election chances rise like the Andes with the name of Caroline Kennedy, her exuberant posse of a family, and Kennedy's good friend President Obama on the trail and on the TV with Paterson.

Yes, she raised tens of millions of dollars (at the behest of Joel Klein) as a fundraiser for New York’s schools through her undeniable star power. Yet, “for months after she started,” the New York Times wrote when she stepped down from the fundraising role in 2004, “even some high-level education figures said they were not quite sure what she did.” The Times also noted that she was never entirely comfortable within the school bureaucracy. It is unlikely she would find the federal bureaucracy more agreeable.

Indeed, nothing in her resume beyond her last name suggests she has the professional experience and grit to represent the famous seat once occupied by Kenneth Keating, her uncle Bobby Kennedy, James Buckley of the conservative Buckley clan, the revered and time-tested political fighter Pat Moynihan, and ferociously hardworking Hillary Clinton any more than she does to present herself as a co-pilot on the Hubble rescue mission next May. She has been notably missing in action on many of the social issues others in her family have championed, including the environment, labor and civil rights.

Whatever you think of the Senate—and these days it is a struggle to have a generous opinion of terminally pompous characters like Chris Dodd—the work of responding to the worst financial peril since 1933 calls for strong voices. Close-the-museums, triple-the-class-size, bread-and-milk-lines kind of peril. Caroline Kennedy can truly boast that in her life she has never stood in line at a 99 cents store, not to mention in a Kevlar vest in Gaza.

Then again, for New York’s Gov. David Paterson, Kennedy is exactly the right person for the job. Mr. Paterson is an accidental governor who achieved his office because of the unusual conduct of Eliot Spitzer, and he must face the voters for the first time as the top of the ticket in 2010. Because whoever occupies Hillary Clinton's Senate seat must also go to the voters in two years, Paterson faces a matter-of-fact equation. How do I use this choice to help myself both raise money and hold off primary challengers? The alternatives—envelope, please—are Andrew Cuomo; Cong. Brian Higgins; Cong. Steve Israel; Cong. Kirsten Gillibrand; Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi; and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. This is not a difficult decision. Paterson's election chances rise like the Andes with the name of Caroline Kennedy, her exuberant posse of a family, and Kennedy's good friend President Obama on the trail and on TV.

Done deal? Paterson's teasing repartee at the Gridiron Club last weekend hints that he is comfortable with the idea and that she is "thinking about it.” Obama, who has vowed to steer clear of the process, veered close to it when he remarked on Meet the Press on Sunday, "Caroline Kennedy has become on one of my dearest friends…" Time to click on iTunes for a “Camelot” sing-along with the lusty Bob Goulet one more time.

RELATED: How Is Caroline Qualified? By Elizabeth Wurtzel

John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.