"I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are. Except that she has name recognition, but so does J-Lo."
-- Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.
WASHINGTON -- Right idea, wrong argument. The problem with Caroline Kennedy's presumption to Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat is not lack of qualification or experience. The Senate houses lots of inexperienced rookies -- wealthy businessmen, sports stars, even the occasional actor.
The problem is Kennedy's sense of entitlement. Given her rather modest achievements, she is trading entirely on pedigree.
I hate to be a good government scold, but wasn't the American experiment a rather firm renunciation of government by pedigree?
Yes, the Founders were not democrats. They believed in aristocracy. But their idea was government by natural -- not inherited -- aristocracy, an aristocracy of "virtue and talents," as Jefferson put it.
And yes, of course, we have our own history of dynastic succession: Adamses and Harrisons, and in the last century, Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushes. Recently, we've even branched out into Argentine-style marital transmission, as in the Doles and the Clintons.
It's not the end of the world, but it is an accelerating trend that need not be encouraged. After all, we have already created another huge distortion in our politics: a plethora of plutocrats in the U.S. Senate, courtesy of our crazed campaign finance laws. If you're very very rich, you can buy your Senate seat by spending as much of your money as you want. Meanwhile, your poor plebeian opponent is running around groveling for the small contributions allowed by law. Hence the Corzines and the Kohls, who parachute into Congress seemingly out of nowhere.
Having given this additional leg up to the rich, we should resist packing our legislatures with yet more privileged parachutists, the well-born.
True, the Brits did it that way for centuries, but with characteristic honesty. They established a house of Parliament exclusively for highborn twits and ensconced them there for life. There they chatter away in supreme irrelevance deep into their dotage. Problem is that the U.S. Senate retains House of Commons powers even as it develops a House of Lords membership.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy. She seems a fine person. She certainly has led the life of a worthy socialite helping all the right causes. But when the mayor of New York endorses her candidacy by offering, among other reasons, that "her uncle has been one of the best senators that we have had in an awful long time," we've reached the point of embarrassment.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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