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Tilting at Windmills

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December 15, 2008

CAROLINE KENNEDY TO SEEK SENATE SEAT.... It's not necessarily a surprise, given her outreach efforts to New York political leaders, but Caroline Kennedy has reportedly decided to formally pursue Hillary Clinton's Senate seat.

The decision came after a series of deeply personal and political conversations, in which Ms. Kennedy, who friends describe as unflashy but determined, wrestled with whether to give up what has been a lifetime of avoiding the spotlight.

Ms. Kennedy will ask that Gov. David A. Paterson consider her for the appointment. The governor was traveling to Utica today could not immediately be reached for comment.

If appointed, Ms. Kennedy would fill the seat once held by her uncle, the late Robert F. Kennedy.

Ms. Kennedy has been making calls this morning to alert political figures to her interest.

Roll Call is reporting the same thing.

Speculation about Kennedy's interest in the seat has prompted some strong analysis, but I'm afraid I don't have especially strong feelings on the subject. I'm not a fan of family dynasties, and I'm even less comfortable when dynasties are continued through appointments, rather than elections. So, by this score, count me as a skeptic.

On the other hand, it's certainly possible that Caroline Kennedy would be a fantastic senator and a champion of values and issues I hold dear. The problem, I suppose, is that I don't really know much about her, other than her last name, and some of the work she did in support of the Obama campaign. Kennedy's never held or run for public office, and I don't yet have a sense of why she wants to serve, what she'd do if she held the office, and whether she's prepared to run in a special election in 2010 and for a full term in 2012.

That's not necessarily meant as criticism. If given a chance, Kennedy may have compelling and persuasive responses to these points, putting all doubts to rest. At this point, though, we haven't heard any of these responses, so it's hard to know how best to respond to the news.

I guess we'll learn more soon enough.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Appointed senators face an uphill climb to be re-elected. When the appointed senator is a person who has zero experience at campaigning, this is even more of an issue.

If New York Democrats want to hand the seat over to Republicans when the term expires, then appointing Caroline Kennedy is a good way to accomplish this.

Posted by: Joe Buck on December 15, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'm tired of the system giving the benefit of the doubt to politicians - Bush, Palin, Schwarzenegger - who are unprepared for the office they seek. Sorry, but even when the office-seeker happens to be a Democrat with a larger-than-life backstory, it's not any more palatable.
You have to prove yourself to the electorate *before* you get into office.
To quote PJ O'Rourke, do you want a dog who knows where the bones are buried, or one who digs up the whole yard?

Posted by: Chris S. on December 15, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Caroline Kennedy is a good person who has quietly done a lot of work for the right causes. But I don't like the idea that someone with a certain surname can just pick up the phone and declare that they are "interested" in a Senate seat. I hope Patterson gives the seat to some scrappy Democrat who has been down in the trenches fighting all along.

Posted by: gizmo on December 15, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Well, she co-authored a book on the Bill of Rights, In Our Defense, that I think should be required reading to get out of high school. And while that doesn't qualify her to be a Senator, it does pre-dispose me to give her a listen.

Posted by: PGE on December 15, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with gizmo@2.32 and Chris S. just above.

I think politics IS a contact game and I just don't know if Caroline Kennedy - who I certainly respect for all the work she's done - is capable of holding on to the seat in the two upcoming elections.

Posted by: phoebes in santa fe on December 15, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Like US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison running for Texas governor, or Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius running for US Senate, or US Senator Diane Feinstein running for California governor, we need more high-profile, experienced, and educated women to be elected to high office to obliterate Sarah Palin's chances to return and dominate the political landscape in 2012. That's the biggest benefit I see from Caroline Kennedy being appointed to Senator Clinton's seat, but I also think she has the brains and integrity to do an excellent job. This woman is class personified.

Posted by: billyjoe on December 15, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is a republic, not a monarchy. She could be fine (I know nothing about her), but dynastic families are pernicious, so I'm against her appointment on those grounds alone. If she wants the seat, she should earn it by competitively campaigning and demonstrating her merits.

Posted by: N.Wells on December 15, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with billyjoe on this one. The fact that she hasn't tried to cash in on her famous family name already speaks highly of her personal integrity, and heaven knows we need as much of that as we can get these days.

Plus, even her detractors concede that she is an intelligent, accomplished worker and we can sure use more of those, as well.

Let everyone who wants to throw their hat in the ring be free to do so and state their case. No one should be excluded from at least trying just because they have a famous name, is how I look at it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on December 15, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

If you don't know much about her, why not read one of her six books?

While I agree dynasties are bad, I can't see how you can fault her for being appointed instead of elected since they will not in fact be any election. Anyone who gets the seat will be unelected. That's no reason to single out Caroline Kennedy to hate. And while being a Kennedy doesn't make her automatically qualified it doesn't make her any less qualified either.

Read her books. Learn more about her. Then decide if she'd be a good senator or a bad senator.

Posted by: MikeJ on December 15, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Just WHAT experience did Hillary Clinton have when she took the seat?
Caroline is a lawyer and has done an exceptional job at anything she has involved herself in.
Campaigning should be a breeze for her.

Posted by: Petie on December 15, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Caroline Kennedy is educated, intelligent, has good taste in politicians (Obama), and is an all around class act.

Having said all that, I don't want to see her appointed. Of course, she has an unfair advantage over more deserving candidates (including women) because of her family ties, and I'm tired of seeing persons getting elected, appointed, whatever, because of who their parents or spouses are (including but not limited to Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons, Romneys, Cuomos, etc.).

Posted by: CJ on December 15, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with CJ. Paterson should have the guts to publicly announce that while Ms. Kennedy is certainly qualified, he will instead choose from among the many fine candidates -- both male and female -- who don't have celebrity/family dynasty recognition. And if People magazine and the other mass media don't like it, they can go to hell.

That, my friends, would be a profile in courage.

Posted by: Vincent on December 15, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

As much as I don't like the idea of Kennedy being appointed, especially because I don't know if she keep the seat safely Dem, I really have no idea who else here in NY should get the seat.

I'm really coming around to the idea of special elections. That seems the most reasonable way to handle Senate vacancies --treat them just like House seats.

Posted by: g. powell on December 15, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK
I don't really know much about her, other than her last name

Not even that: her last name is Schlossberg.

Posted by: Tom Parmenter on December 15, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone seriously believe Hillary Clinton didn't win her senate seat almost entirely due to the Clinton name recognition?

Posted by: Erik in Maine on December 15, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

It will keep together the staff that Ted Kennedy has put together, which has been a major asset for progressive legislation. Carolyn Kennedy is taking Hillary Clinton's seat, but she is really replacing Ted Kennedy.

Posted by: Tom in Ma on December 15, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I think Louise Slaughter would make a terrific Senator from N. Y.

And I believe it would be a fine idea for Caroline Schlossberg to run for the Senate.

Part of the on-the-job training for a senator is running for election. It's something that Hillary profited by immensely. She toured the state intensively, talking and listening and doingher homework about the issues her constituents felt strongly about.It's how she got reelected by a thumping majority.

If there's a substantive criticism I would have of Caroline, it's that she's lived the life of a private rich person. Board memberships, fund raising and all, she's been very private. I think a Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg that crisscrossed the state, made stump speeches and ordered orange juice in diners might have some of the contact and awareness to be a Senator from New York: but a Caroline appointed out of her midtown-and-Hamptons rarefied orbit directly into the Capitol would not do well for the people of the state.

Posted by: pbg on December 15, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree dynasties are bad, I can't see how you can fault her for being appointed instead of elected since they will not in fact be any election. Anyone who gets the seat will be unelected. That's no reason to single out Caroline Kennedy to hate. And while being a Kennedy doesn't make her automatically qualified it doesn't make her any less qualified either.

I totally agree with this, and it's the response I give to anyone who thinks that she should be elected--any other candidate is going to be appointed as well. Someone at Kos favors a placeholder who will promise not to run in two years, but that's really an argument for a special election and doing away with the appointment process altogether. Why would a state want a placeholder with yet another Senator who will start back at the bottom of the seniority ladder in two years? Why would a state want someone who has no desire to remain there for more than a third of a typical term? For two years, you only have one effective senator.

Either you respect that a governor can appoint whoever they want, or you favor a special election. But all these unwritten requirements and rules? No.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on December 15, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm really coming around to the idea of special elections. That seems the most reasonable way to handle Senate vacancies --treat them just like House seats.

That's what I favor. It also gets rid of at least one consideration when the president wants to appoint a sitting Senator to another job--you don't have to worry about what governor might be replacing them. I think that might be an issue in another state that I was reading about somewhere.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on December 15, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

What I think would be a mistake is for either Paterson or Kennedy to assume that she is a shoe-in for election in 2010. If that is why Paterson wants to appoint her, that's a mistake. Her cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, ran one of the most inept campaigns imaginable, and managed to lose the election for governor in the ink blue state of Maryland, against someone who is little more than an empty suit.

The other risk, IMHO, is that she will do little more than phone it in as a senator. There are few senators who really do the nitty gritty work of governing, and her uncle is one of them. If that's her model, that would be great. But it seems less than clear . . .

Posted by: Barbara on December 15, 2008 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Barbara - You really think Caroline Kennedy wants to be senator so she can "phone it in"?

Caroline Kennedy perhaps has not pursued a political career until now because she has had small children who just recently came of an age to be better able to take the stress of not having a mother available to them while she is campaigning and tending to the concerns of a high profile political life. Instead, she has served quietly on an educational reform committee of the city, written expert legal books and has been executive director of the JFK Library.

Do we really think Caroline should have run for congress on the Upper East side before wishing to be senator? Or should she have moved away from where she has lived her entire life in order to "serve" somewhere where she has no real connection in order to prove her political bona fides?

A special election would be ideal - but the ideal doesn't exist - she must step forward now or else the seat will be gone - perhaps for a very long time - and with Shummer in the other seat - there simply will not be another opportunity for her.

Posted by: C.B. Todd on December 15, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Enough with the dynasties of unqualified politicians. I've had it up to here with Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons, Doles, etc.

Caroline Kennedy hasn't done anything noteworthy except being born into the right family. It's time the Kennedys took a nice long rest from public life.

Nothing personal.

Posted by: John on December 15, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

Special elections -- especially state-wide -- cost *loads* of money (the issue is being discussed vis Obama's replacement but extrapolation isn't all that difficult). Given the current economic climate -- where states are running out of cash for unemployment benefits, while, at the same time, expecting the need for those benefits to balloon -- spending upwards of 50mil for special elections might not prove to be such a very popular solution, either. Particularly since whoever takes over the Clinton seat (through whichever means) will have to run anyway in two years time.

Posted by: exlibra on December 15, 2008 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

I find Kennedy appealing. Potentially she is the first female president. Clinton will be too old in 8 years. Kennedy will be just the right age.

She also strikes me as being the most capable of this generation of Kennedy's. She has written books and has had an active professional life. She is also a friend of the guy moving into the White House next month.

All in all she looks pretty good to me. Who would Patterson appoint?

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 15, 2008 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Exlibra, if elections cost a lot of money. But we do call ourselves a democracy. Maybe we should try living up to that idea now and then.

I guess asking that someone who represents your state, even for just a couple of years, should be elected is crazy talk.

Senators should always be elected, never appointed.

Posted by: g. powell on December 15, 2008 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

Senators should always be elected, never appointed. -- g. powell, @21:05

Perhaps they should; I'm not quarreling with that. But, so far, all the unexpired remnants of Senatorial terms had been filled in by appointment, at least till the next *scheduled* election. That had been an axiom to the point where, whenever a Senator "went down" (for whatever reason -- jail, death, job change), the very first question on everyone's mind was "who/which party is the Governor of that state?" And nobody objected to that until just now -- with Blago's scandal and Kennedy's sudden and unexpected emergence into the wider political scene.

The "rules" may need changing; I wouldn't know and I can think of both pro and con arguments (given the shorter, "emergency", campaign period, wouldn't initial name recognition count for a whole lot? And Kennedy has that). But, changing them at just this point -- because you don't like the possibility of this or that potential nominee -- seems as peculiar to me as leaving them in place. Add in the cost...

Posted by: exlibra on December 15, 2008 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

Exlibra, the next two years in D.C. will probably be as significant as the FDR's or Johnson's first two. I'd just like to have four elected officials represent me in the Federal gov. during that time, not three.

And besides, the current NY gov wasn't elected to the position that he holds. Add the general sleaze of Albany, and I think this looks like a raw deal to the average New Yorker. Maybe Kennedy would win an election, she might even be my first choice, but at least make her earn it. That's a democratic -- and a Democratic -- principle worth fighting for.

Senators were originally appointed positions. Let's go all the way and now make them completely elected, even during unusual circumstances. Cost cannot be the only objection to a democratically elected representative. If it is, you don't really believe in the democratic process.

Posted by: g. powell on December 15, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

There isn't going to be a special election in NY - so get over it. And as for "a raw deal to the average New Yorker." Speak for yourself. Most New Yorkers I know, and I am one - are a bit more informed as to the work and attributes of Caroline Kennedy and her ability to not only win the seat if there was a special election but to hold the seat once elected. There's nothing raw about it.

You seem to assume that the ONLY reason Caroline Kennedy is interested in the seat is because she would be appointed and not elected. That is bogus. Average New Yorkers know that.

Posted by: C.B. Todd on December 16, 2008 at 4:25 AM | PERMALINK

The issue I have with appointments is the incumbent has a huge advantage in the next election. If the appointee was prevented from running for the seat in the next election this issue would be moot.

This would also ameliorate the Blago appointment issue.

Posted by: Erik in Maine on December 16, 2008 at 7:14 AM | PERMALINK

So Erik - what you want is a place holder. Someone who has no political aspirations to become a Senator for 1 -5 years - but who is qualified for the position - meaning has the connections and political acumen of someone who does have political aspirations to take the position. Just who would that someone be exactly?

And how exactly does a state in the end benefit from such an appointment - if you could find such a person - knowing that any senority that the person gained would be automatically lost at the end of the term. How seriously would such a person be taken while serving. How much could they accomplish for the state when everyone knows they have no future and no gravitas to be considered?

Good Placeholders are not only implausible to begin with - they do not help the state either. -Bad idea all around.

Posted by: C.B. Todd on December 16, 2008 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK



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