Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Yesterday I argued that appointing Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat might not be a great idea but isn't a terrible or indefensible one. I want to point out that the appointment is far from a done deal, and, in fact, another name has just been floated:

Gov. Paterson said he will consider longtime [New York] city teachers union President Randi Weingarten for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.

Paterson told the Daily News on Monday that Weingarten recently contacted him about the seat - fresh evidence that ambitious New York Democrats aren't about to clear out of the way for Caroline Kennedy....

Paterson said Weingarten, who recently also became president of the American Federation of Teachers, told him "she won't run away" if Paterson calls on her....

Weingarten, who would be the first openly gay U.S. senator, has ties to Paterson's father, Basil, a labor lawyer who has represented her union....

A teachers' union president and a lesbian. Don't say we don't know how to do interest-group politics to a fare-thee-well here in the Empire State.


Yesterday's New York Post, incidentally, had this:

THE odds of Gov. Paterson choosing Caroline Kennedy to re place soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the US Senate are no better than 20-1, a source close to the governor said yesterday....

"It looks to me like [Caroline's cousin] Bobby Kennedy may be trying to push Caroline more than Caroline is pushing herself," a Paterson administration source told The Post.

... the governor, who has the sole authority to name a new senator, was also said to be concerned that Kennedy, whom friends call "quiet and non-assertive," doesn't have the personality to be an aggressive fighter in the Senate on behalf of the state's increasingly desperate need for federal financial help.

"The bottom-line question is: Can Caroline Kennedy be the tough, hard, calculating, aggressive, articulate and, yes, obnoxious type of senator New York needs and expects?" said a second administration insider....


Meanwhile, Ruth Marcus's column in The Washington Post is just icky:

What really draws me to the notion of Caroline as senator, though, is the modern-fairy-tale quality of it all. Like many women my age -- I'm a few months younger than she -- Caroline has always been part of my consciousness: The lucky little girl with a pony and an impossibly handsome father. The stoic little girl holding her mother's hand at her father's funeral. The sheltered girl, whisked away from a still-grieving country by a mother trying to shield her from prying eyes.

In this fairy tale, Caroline is our tragic national princess. She is not locked away in a tower but chooses, for the most part, to closet herself there. Her mother dies, too young. Her impossibly handsome brother crashes his plane, killing himself, his wife and his sister-in-law. She is the last survivor of her immediate family; she reveals herself only in the measured doses of a person who has always been, will always be, in the public eye.

Then, deciding that Obama is the first candidate with the inspirational appeal of her father, she chooses to abandon her previous, above-it-all detachment from the hurly-burly of politics.

I know it's an emotional -- dare I say "girly"? -- reaction. But what a fitting coda to this modern fairy tale to have the little princess grow up to be a senator.

Oh, give me a break. If I may say so as a man, this valorization of Caroline as a princess strikes me as appallingly pre-feminist -- as if the highest state of womanhood is to live in a gilded cage and be exempt from ordinary drudgery, rather than to accomplish anything, because every woman would secretly rather be a Kennedy woman than, say, a seasoned pol or an accomplished neurosurgeon or whatever. Yes, in my earlier post I did say that Kennedy's celebrity might make her a more appealing senator (and future candidate) to some voters than a truly qualified but less well-known person would be; I want to make clear, though, that I don't like that fact. I was simply recognizing political reality.

I'll reiterate that as long as Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani live in this state, that's not a safe Democratic seat -- Ross Douthat, you're wrong about that, even though your critique of Marcus is on the mark -- but my ideal scenario would be that the seat go to someone who's earned it (Carolyn Maloney, say) and that that person would subsequently win the seat outright in an election. I'm not sure that would happen, though, so I can live with a pick of Kennedy -- in spite of the fact that she's a "princess," not because she is.

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