Sunday, December 07, 2008

Privilege

Governor David Patterson of New York is in an enviable position. He will be deciding upon the replacement (who will presumably run on his/her own when the position is up in 2010) for Senator Hillary Clinton, nominated for Secretary of State. The list of qualified candidates is long, includingat least Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Kirsten Gillibrand, Steve Israel, Brian Higgins, Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler; Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown or Tom Suozzi, a Long Island elected official; New York State Secretary of State Andrew Cuomo; and Bill Clinton.

But a small boomlet has formed for Caroline Kennedy, the 51-year-old niece of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy endorsed Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, likening him to her late father, John F. Kennedy of Camelot fame. She campaigned for Obama in California (which he lost to Clinton) and was part of the vice-presidential search team which, to its credit, apparently settled on Joe Biden.

Taylor Marsh, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter who strongly supported Obama against McCain, supports Kennedy, noting "We don't penalize people in this country for coming from a famous family, especially one whose members have given their lives in public service, which certainly applies to the Kennedys."

No, we shouldn't "penalize people in this country for coming from a famous family." But neither should it push a job applicant to the top of the pack, whether for a position as a teacher, accountant, police officer, sanitation worker, or United States Senator from New York. And neither should we be impressed with the "public service" of someone who wants to serve as one of a select group of 58 or 59 Democratic members of the the legislative body, who didn't see fit to lend her famous name in support of any Democratic presidential nominee- not Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry- before Barack Obama came along. (Though this isn't surprising, given that one searches her statement of endorsement in vain for anything concrete she thought Obama believed in or would do for the country.)

This isn't to suggest that Ms. Kennedy is as unqualified to serve as United States Senator as, say, Sarah Palin was (and is) to serve as Vice-President. Unlike the Governor of the Peoples Republic of Alaska, Ms. Kennedy, a lawyer who with Ellen Alderman wrote In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action and The Right to Privacy, appears interested in the world beyond her world. But that's setting the bar awfully low. Choosing Caroline Kennedy, though not nearly as cynical and irresponsible as John McCain's selection of Palin, would ignore the importance of reaching for the very best when your country is involved in two wars, in severe need of health care reform, and possibly careening toward a depression.

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