I first met Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Returning from a visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, I stopped in the press center and found her talking with New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who introduced us. I told her I had just been to the library and saw her doll collection. We had a brief conversation during which I noticed something missing: pretentiousness.
Like many Americans my age, I first "met" Caroline when she was a child. The image of her in those black-and-white photos holding her father's hand and riding her pony remain indelible.
Now, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg wants to be a United States senator. After success as a wife and mother with no hint of scandal, the Senate might be a step down for her, but if she wants it, who will deny her? Certainly not David Paterson, the governor of New York, who can only gain by appointing her to Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be vacant seat.
"She's not qualified," some say. Was Hillary Clinton qualified when she ran for the seat? Sen. Clinton had never served in elective office, either. And what "qualifies" one to be a member of Congress? Sweetheart deals on loans? Men like Ted Stevens of Alaska and the 91-year-old Robert Byrd are the twin peaks of pork. Has their behavior "qualified" them to be in the Senate?
In a Dec. 16 New York Times story headlined "Resume Long on Politics, but Short on Public Office," David Halbfinger offers a resume that looks pretty good to me. (She) is "no dilettante," he says, which is in stark contrast to some in Congress who are. Halbfinger then lists a number of private efforts by Kennedy Schlossberg that accomplished worthwhile things with her own time and money. What conservative wouldn't support volunteer work and raising private money, rather than spending more public funds, of which there are none left?
Being a Kennedy, of course, means she is a liberal, but that isn't a disqualification for public office or there wouldn't be so many of them. It's New York, after all, and Gov. Paterson is not about to nominate a conservative.
Even if the governor offers her the seat, state law requires her to run in 2010 to complete Sen. Clinton's term and then again for a full term in 2012. That's a lot of running, which doesn't leave much time for working.
It's difficult for those of us who came of age in the '60s to let go of that decade, at least the early part before things got ugly. Much has been written (and put into music) about that decade and the myth of "Camelot" (the Kennedy presidency, not the musical). It is true that some Kennedys have behaved as a privileged class, getting away with things that others would not have been able to get away with. But just as one cannot pick one's family, neither should Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg be judged favorably, or unfavorably, based on her relations.
She is her own person, though she clearly benefits far more than if her name was Schwartz, or Jones. She should be assessed on her fitness for office based on her positions on issues. Inexperienced women have been appointed to office, usually following the death of their husbands. Some, like Margaret Chase Smith and Mary Bono, have distinguished themselves. If Kennedy Schlossberg gets the job, there will be time to learn whether she is her father's daughter in more than her biological DNA. I'm betting she has some of his political DNA, as well.
Is there anyone in doubt what campaign song she'll choose?
"Where it began, I can't begin to know when
But then I know it's growing strong
Oh, wasn't the spring, whooo
And spring became the summer
Who'd believe you'd come along...
"Oh, sweet Caroline
Good times never seem so good
I've been inclined to believe it never would."