December 20, 2008

Dynastic Heritage Should Be Considered A Disadvantage

Caroline Kennedy wants to replace Hillary Clinton as one of New York's U.S. Senators. As near as I can tell, her qualifications for the office are:
  • She is a United States citizen and over the age of 30 years
  • She is an attorney (Columbia Law 1988), admitted to practice in New York and Washington D.C.
  • Her father was President John F. Kennedy
  • She is the inspiration for Neil Diamond's popular song "Sweet Caroline"
Aside from that, I don't know why she, in particular, is qualified to be in the Senate as opposed to any other New Yorker over the age of 30 years. Or why New York's Governor, David Paterson (who stepped into his office in the wake of Elliot Spitzer's call-girl induced fall from grace) should be "forced" to nominate her over anyone who has, for instance, actually held some kind of elective office at any point in her life. The political back story is that she endorsed Barack Obama and thus started splinter in the New York Democratic Party instead of uniting behind Clinton in the Presidential primary. And the big argument now is that she is the most likely candidate to win election in the 2010 race for the seat, offering a fairly middle-of-the-road Democratic platform excepting her endorsement of same-sex marraiges.

Now, Geraldine Ferraro says that Ms. Kennedy is not ready or qualified, so that in itself suggests that perhaps Paterson ought to take a closer look. It also appears that Ms. Kennedy's record of actually voting in elections is not strong -- which wouldn't slow down a candidate with strong charisma or some other strong case to make for an office.

But the biggest argument against Ms. Kennedy is, in my mind, her last name -- the big reason people seem excited about her is her provenance. But I'm of a mind that we are a republic and not a society where one's parentage ought to be the determining factor of one's eligibility for leadership positions and political office. Now, I know better than that as a matter of fact. Of course we have a class system in this country. Of course money matters. Of course contacts and being a member of the elite matters. But it ought not to, or at least that sort of thing ought not to make itself ostentatiously visible. The Kennedys have become too visibly an elite family when a (quite possibly very bright) Kennedy is considered a leading candidate for high office for no reason other than the fact that she is a Kennedy.

I was opposed to Hillary Clinton for the Presidency and not particularly enthusiastic about more Bushes for the Presidency precisely because we've already had some of those Clintons and Bushes. We Americans rejected the machinations of Lancastrians, Stuarts, and Tudors from our mother country and re-naming that sort of thing Kennedys, Bushes, and Clintons does not make them any less dynastic.

Yes, it sometimes works out. Franklin Roosevelt did a good job as President and he had a Presidential precdecessor in his family. But mainly, we should be distrustful of dynastic thinking.

And it's ironic that after Caroline Kennedy, the next-leading candidate for the appointment is Andrew Cuomo.

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