America’s Political Aristocracy Problem


kennedy obama.jpgI have very mixed feelings about the news that Caroline Kennedy is now seeking appointment to Hillary Clinton’s soon to be vacated Senate seat.
It seems hypocritical to on the one hand challenge Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s qualifications and readiness to have potentially assumed the presidency if something had happened to John McCain and if, of course, their ticket had won on November 4th and then on the other, say nothing about Caroline Kennedy’s dearth of real policy and political experience to assume one of the most powerful offices in the country — even if a Senator is usually not as consequential as a President.
I feel that it’s important that vacant Senate seats be taken seriously by both the Democratic and Republican parties — and selecting celebrity family members from political dynasties feels undemocratic.
Caroline Kennedy — when she shows she has thick-skin. can take tough-minded criticism for the mistakes she no doubt will make, and when she articulates coherent policy views on serious challenges facing the country — may make in fact make a great Senator from New York. I hope that she does and that she grows into the role.
But can Caroline Kennedy publicly support a process that leads to a viable Palestinian state and explain to her constituents why? Can she embrace that ending America’s anachronistic Cold War with Cuba is low hanging fruit on America’s roster of foreign policy opportunities and that more enlightened policy there can create a positive echo effect elsewhere? Can she make informed decisions on whether American force should be deployed to achieve policy objectives — and can she also stand up to the President, someone of her own party, and work to deny the White House of war-making authority when a conflict is undermining the interests of the country?
Can Caroline Kennedy legislate the contours of what it might take to establish a new social contract in domestic America? Can she distinguish between the features of ‘smart globalization’ and manic globalization? Does she understand that none of the tough policy choices in the country are binary ones — that there are mostly shades of gray and nuanced differences between the policy options facing the country but that these nuances can be enormously consequential?
JFK was a Democratic hawk, much in the mold of what Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and Ben Nelson have conveyed in their political views — but over the years, Caroline Kennedy and her late brother John worked hard to assert a narrative about their father that he was a Wilsonian progressive in foreign policy, someone committed to global justice with a soft touch. Will Caroline Kennedy be part of the pacifist, idealistic wing of the Democratic Party? or will she join the muscular wing of values militants that have emerged as a strong force? or will she be a pragmatic realist — closer to where Barack Obama seems to be?
How will Caroline Kennedy be as an “excecutive” in a powerful legislative seat, sculptng what is too often typically a passive role of voting nay or yea into something that will add value for New Yorkers and Americans?
There are many questions in store for Kennedy as she pursues this Senate seat, and she needs to show a readiness to be grilled.
While the Kennedy clan is clearly one of America’s strongest and most enduring political family dynasties, the Kennedys that mattered were always the ones who stunned the public with their brilliance and tenacity.
Each of the most famous Kennedys — their audience would feel — could have been a successful political heavyweight even without the Kennedy name.
That will be the test for Caroline Kennedy. Can she show that she can be one of the best crafters of policy and one of the strongest animators of activism in ways that show that she should have always been in the Senate on her own merits — and not just because she got her resume read because of her last name?
I hope she shows us much we haven’t yet seen and stuns us like other members of her family have. We’ll see.
— Steve Clemons


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