In the days since declaring her actual interest in Hillary Clinton’s senate seat, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy has made tentative attempts at campaigning—insofar as leaving Fifth Avenue amounts to running a rally. But in fairness, she has had some meetings with the upstate apparatchiks, which seems to be serving as a proxy for speaking to the press or the public. We’ve seen scenes of her running from microphones as if they were assassins (not an entirely irrational thought), punctuated by a few words at a dais, mostly to say she’s honored that the governor is considering her for the job, that she has a lifetime of public service to show for herself, and that she’s managed to raise a family, which counts for something.
At least when Hillary Clinton went on her listening tour, she heard from the people and formed her own opinions. Candidate Caroline just looks like she’s sightseeing.
“Somebody from the press corps had the audacity to ask when she was last in Syracuse,” noted George Will wryly, on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos. “This question assumes that she’s actually been in Syracuse before.”
It was nice of her to fill out a questionnaire for Politico.com, but life is not a law school exam.
I think it’s safe to say that things have not started off well for Caroline, and all the same, no one doubts that she will be New York’s next senator. It does have the feel of a done deal, the OED example at the definition of fait accompli, even if no one can think of a good reason why it should happen. Maybe we should just let her have it, on legacy and money alone. Perhaps we are overestimating the importance of being a senator: after all, any single member of the Senate is only 1% of half the legislative branch, which itself is only a third of the federal government taken in total. How much damage—or difference—can result?
All of which is to say, given the very low stakes of this whole contest—to make matters more ridiculous, only one person, Governor Paterson, is voting—Caroline Kennedy might as well loosen up, and chat with her would-be constituents. She ought to try playing the part, if only for laughs. I mean, it was nice of her to fill out a questionnaire for Politico.com, but life is not a law school exam. It’s time for Caroline to speak out.
After all, she’s no Jackie Kennedy. With her widely-spaced dark eyes, her mother had the ethereal other-worldly beauty of a bird or some other herbivore: She was a peaceful dove, pursued by the vulturous paparazzi. Caroline Kennedy is not so similarly blessed; instead she’s got her father’s rugged good looks and slightly nasal voice: to impress us, she needs to be genuinely articulate; she can’t win our love with glib glances, as Jackie did. But to say this is a campaign of surrogates would not even be quite right—Caroline’s most outspoken spokeswoman is her cousin Kerry, who just happens to be ex-wife of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who just happens to be her leading rival for the senate seat. Is this politics or a family food fight?
Look, there’s something so plainly dignified about Caroline that floats above the political fray. Even seeing her chew collard greens at Sylvia’s with Al Sharpton the other day seemed oddly out of place—who knew she engaged in ordinary life-sustaining activities? This is a divine—as in godly—quality that Caroline inherited from Jackie, who nonetheless insisted on working as a Doubleday editor, and by all accounts even did her own Xeroxing. The tension in the Kennedy clan between royal insouciance and hardy human-ness is playing out right now in the person of Caroline Kennedy, and only because she insists on pursuing a paying job that would require her to represent the interests of an entire state. The question people keep asking is if she’s qualified —what I can’t figure out is why she wants the job in the first place. And there’s only one way I or anyone else is ever going to find out: Caroline Kennedy needs to explain herself. Loud and clear.
Elizabeth Wurtzel is author of Prozac Nation, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, and More, Now, Again. She has been popular music critic for The New Yorker and New York, and the film reviewer for Nerve. Her work has been widely anthologized.