Caroline Kennedy Sexism Watch

I’m agnostic on the idea of Caroline Kennedy being appointed to replace Secretary of State-Designate Hillary Clinton in New York; on the one hand, I am generally skeptical of political dynasties (something that was a factor in my backing Barack Obama over Clinton in the primary), and there is no more dynastic dynasty in American politics than the Kennedys; they make the Bushes look like the Mondales. Caroline would join her uncle in the Senate, while her cousin hangs out in the House; she’s had a father as President and two uncles run for the office. America doesn’t really need another Kennedy in office.

Then again, while I’m skeptical about dynasties, that doesn’t mean that all dynastic politicians are ipso facto bad. Hillary Clinton would have been a good president; Al Gore was an outstanding Vice President, and would have been an infinitely superior president to the guy we’ve got. Caroline Kennedy is by all accounts a bright, articulate, progressive voice, and while she might not be getting consideration for the position if she was Caroline Jones, she’d probably be beloved on the left if, as Caroline Jones, she popped up in the Senate. Certainly, a woman who serves as a director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, who raised $65 million for New York City schools, and who headed up Barack Obama’s veep search-and-screen operation is well-qualified for public office, arguably better-qualified than many current senators. Finally, given the historical nature of this particular seat (it has been held by two dynastic politicians — Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton — and James L. Buckley, the brother of William F. Buckley), Kennedy might be a good fit for it.

So like I said, I’m agnostic; there are good reasons to support Kennedy and good reasons to oppose her. And I’m all for people making that argument. But there are also bad reasons to oppose Kennedy, and one of those was advanced, alas, by the redoubtable Jane Hamsher in the pixels of HuffPo:

It seems Caroline Kennedy has decided she’d rather have a US Senate seat than a pony for Christmas[…] Really? She’s “making calls this morning to alert political figures to her interest?” I guess it was either that or get her nails done.

A pony? “Getting her nails done?” Really, Jane?

If this were Jim Kennedy, would you suggest he was getting a manicure, asking for a pony? Of course not. You might pick out other symbols of idleness, but those quintessentially feminine grace notes would be left out. It’s not enough to suggest Kennedy isn’t a good pick for the seat — she has to be derided as idle and, most damningly, an idle woman.

That’s ridiculous. To Kennedy’s credit, she hasn’t been idle. She’s been active. I don’t know if that activity is enough to merit her a seat in the U.S. Senate (though if Tom Coburn can function there, she’s probably smart enough to handle it), but it’s not as if Kennedy has been living in a secluded mansion since 1963.

The gubernatorial power to appoint a Senator is, in my opinion, too much power to vest in one person, and I’d love to see more states follow the lead of states like Alaska (no, really), and require a special election to fill the position. But this is the system we have — and it does favor politically-connected elites. But the truth is that’s a systemic problem, and that’s what should be attacked, not those who work within the system to seek a position.

Ultimately, Gov. David Patterson — who himself was once considered a possibility for this seat, back before Elliot Spitzer was forced to resign — will make his choice. And the person selected will either be a great choice or a failure. It’s fine to argue Kennedy will be a failure based on her past record, her public actions, her political associations. It’s even legitimate to — as Hamsher does — suggest that if Kennedy wants the seat that she owes it to the people she seeks to represent to hold a press conference, to go out and address the public and actually campaign for the position.

But simply saying that she’s an idle girly girl who’s been sitting at home eating bon-bons — sorry, that’s insulting to everyone, especially women who might be considering moving from private and semi-public charity work into the political realm.

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6 Responses to Caroline Kennedy Sexism Watch

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    Hm. I was born and raised in Massachusetts about 20 miles from the birthplace of the Kennedys. I remember where I was when I heard about both Jack and Bobby’s assasinations. Talk about political dynasties; who the hell else would get away with appointing their brother Attorney General?

    I’m trying to understand how you describe Buckley as a member of a political dynasty. William F. Buckley never held political office (according to Wiki, anyway – I couldn’t remember any either).

    Actually, before I read this I was against her being appointed, but I hadn’t realized she was as active as she is. Maybe she IS qualified to be in the Senate. Overall I do tend to agree with your opinion about political dynasties, though. I bet she wouldn’t get consideration if her name was Caroline Schwartz instead of Caroline Kennedy.

    [Part of post deleted by Ron’s request]

  2. 2
    bint alshamsa says:

    Jeff, thank you for writing about this. Hamsher generally makes me sick to my stomach so I don’t visit her site. That made it even more annoying to see her own special brand of cluelessness on Huff-Po today.

  3. 3
    Jeff Fecke says:

    I’m trying to understand how you describe Buckley as a member of a political dynasty. William F. Buckley never held political office (according to Wiki, anyway – I couldn’t remember any either).

    I don’t — that’s why I set him off from RFK and Hillary — but he was something of a celebrity senator. It’s a seat with something of a celebrity reputation, which, while not requiring continued indulgence, does make it less crazy to appoint a celebrity to it.

  4. 4
    RonF says:


  5. Hello there!

    I think that there are many people speculating about WHY Caroline Kennedy has decided to step into the role of Senator.

    It’s a no brainer. This country is going to hell in a hand basket and everyone who is ABLE to wield influence on a broad level in a way that will produce positive change for this country better step off of the yacht and out of obscurity NOW.

    I think Caroline now realizes that this nation needs more of her leadership on the front lines.

    Her mother always said in interviews that Caroline was the child that she felt would be the best-suited for public life.

    Caroline got married and devoted her life to her children while maintaining a STRONG presence in the political arena supporting progressive-thinking candidates WITHOUT having her name in every issue and cause that she has been advancing from the sidelines.

    Obama did not bring her out front simply because her last name was Kennedy. He knew that she had a very seasoned understanding of the political machine in his country because her own family has helped to shape that political machine.

    People claim that sitting on boards is not “REAL” experience. They have never served on a board with a significant role because boards members hire and fire organization and corporate officials and shape policy and guide organizations to market leadership. Board members are responsible for evaluating the implementaion of initiatives and for evaluating the effectiveness of leadership practices.

    Caroline has had this responsibility for decades. I don’t feel we should take it lightly.

    Caroline is unimpressed by wealth and power and is the least likely to be “bought” by Washington special interest groups. Caroline also understands consensus building. She will be a unifier and I believe that is vitally necessary.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

  6. 6
    BettyBoondoggle says:

    Jeff! yay!