Caroline Kennedy—the daughter of John F. Kennedy and an early Obama supporter—has signaled that she is interested in being appointed to the Senate seat being vacated by Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton.
My biggest problem with Kennedy is that she’s a virtual unknown—Caroline Kennedy has led a very private life, making it difficult to tell what her political positions are (except that they were close enough to Barack Obama’s for her to come out of her seclusion and endorse him). In addition, her political acumen is unknown—nobody can really say if she’s a good fundraiser or an effective campaigner since she’s never competed for public office before.
To me, Hillary Clinton’s input is what should matter most here; this is the remainder of her term we’re talking about, and Clinton was re-elected to her seat with 67% of the vote. I think Clinton is wrong to refuse to offer input on who should replace her, since the people of New York entrusted her—by a wide margin—with one of their Senate seats.
Unfortunately, Clinton is abdicating the process entirely to Governor David Paterson. Thus, it’s entirely his prerogative to pick whomever he decides would be best for the job. And even though we know very little about Caroline Kennedy’s politics, I don’t doubt that Paterson will vet her he entrusts her with one of his state’s Senate seats.
A lot of people are arguing against Kennedy’s appointment, making the (perfectly valid) point that Caroline Kennedy wouldn’t even be in contention if it weren’t for her famous last name. That’s true. But it’s also true that Hillary Clinton’s famous last name played a large role in her getting elected to the Senate in the first place. That’s not to diminish the work she did to build a political coalition in New York nor the work she has done in service to the people of that state, but the fact that she’s a Clinton gave her a unique and undeniable advantage.
Personally, I’m against political dynasties. I think as many people as possible should have a shot at getting elected to public office, and I think having a famous last name or well-connected family shouldn’t give you an advantage. But, again, this seat is already held by someone who benefits from a famous last name, so I don’t see that as a big an issue as some people are making it out to be.
Some people will argue that, well, at least Clinton ran for the seat, whereas Kennedy would be appointed. And that’s a valid point. But this is a unique situation—the seat is open, someone needs to fill it and, legally, the Governor has absolute authority in this regard. I wouldn’t oppose the idea of filling all Senate vacancies via special election, but that’s not the system currently in place in New York, unfortunately.
So, in the end, I’m not necessarily opposed to a Kennedy appointment. No matter who gets the seat, he/she will have to defend it in 2010, and I’m sure that’s a criterion Governor Paterson is taking into account. And while Kennedy’s famous last name is benefiting her, in 2000 Clinton’s last name benefited her, giving her a leg up over other potential Democratic candidates with stronger records and more experience, such as Rep. Nita Lowey.
In the end, I think Paterson will do the right thing; it would not bode well for his political future if his hand-picked Senate candidate was defeated at the polls, and I’m sure he is aware of that.