Howard Kurtz, one of my favorite media analysts, makes one good point about name-brand politics and misses another completely in his column today. The building of dynasties in American politics does have a long and broad history, but the issue of Kennedy has a unique component:
How shocking, some folks are saying, that Caroline Kennedy might use her storied last name to land a Senate seat.
I don’t recall hearing a whole lot of carping when George Walker Bush, son of George Herbert Walker Bush, became an instantly plausible presidential candidate because his dad had served in the Oval Office.
I heard some of it when Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of William Jefferson Clinton, won a Senate seat in large measure because she was married to the president (who had publicly cheated on her).
Then there’s Chris Dodd (son of Tom), Evan Bayh (son of Birch), Mitt Romney (son of George), Jeb Bush (son of George), Mary Bono (widow of Sonny), Lincoln Chafee (son of John), Nancy Pelosi (daughter of former congressman Thomas D’Alesandro Jr.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (son of Jesse), Andrew Cuomo (son of Mario), Richard Daley (son of Richard), Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of Illinois House speaker Michael Madigan), to name but a few. And let’s not forget Caroline’s Uncle Ted, who won a Senate seat in 1962 with his brother in the White House, and would have been laughed off the field if he had a different last name.
What do all of the above have in common, and Caroline Kennedy does not? All of them were elected to their positions. Each of the above, and plenty more legacy politicians in America’s past, went to the voters and stood the test of election before assuming office. Caroline Kennedy not only has not run for anything before, she’s not running now, either.
David Paterson has a responsibility as Governor of New York to find the most capable and qualified person to appoint to Hillary Clinton’s seat. No one can argue that Kennedy is that; what on her resumé would make her more qualified than Andrew Cuomo, for instance, himself a dynastic choice in New York? At least Cuomo has served in office — currently as Attorney General — and has a record of serving constituents in New York. Until Obama’s election, Caroline Kennedy was a political wallflower, which is no shame, but it hardly recommends her for high public office either.
Paterson and the Democrats want Kennedy not for her qualifications, but for her money. If a man approached Kennedy for marriage on the same basis, people would call him a cad and worse. And even in politics, that would still be acceptable in the context of an election. In the context of an appointment, that looks a lot more like the kind of pay-for-play politics that we saw in Illinois and potentially in New Mexico and Florida over the past week.
New Yorkers who want Caroline Kennedy to serve in office should ask her to put herself forward to the voters, not sneak in the back door by flashing the cash. That’s what makes Kennedy’s pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat so unseemly, a point that the entire media has missed and not just Howard Kurtz.