December 19th, 2008
PURE GOLD: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE KENNEDY GENES.by Ed Gold
Caroline in her younger days.
The Kennedy dynasty continues to bewilder and dazzle. The three most famous, Jack, Bobby and Teddy, were all transformed by politics and all three emerged as inspirational leaders-unexpected, considering their early history.
Now we have a new family surprise with Caroline. Considered bookish and shy, she stayed conspicuously out of the limelight for almost all of her adult life. This daughter of Jack, niece of Bobby and Teddy, is emerging from the shadows of a mostly private life, seeking to replace a political icon, Hillary Clinton.
We have never had a family like the Kennedys and it is difficult to imagine another American family with similar impact.
Like all the Kennedy achievers, Caroline begins with a very thin resume, considering that she seeks the seat occupied most successfully by a superior political animal who now moves on as Secretary of State. Very big shoes to fill.
Whether Caroline has the genes of her forebears remains to be seen. She will have to overcome a perfectly reasonable view that she has yet to demonstrate her capacity to meet a tough political challenge. Her persona to date reveals a socialite—squeaky clean, modest, publicly spirited, a member of a great political family who has focused on fund-raising for public education and a variety of efforts to enhance the memory of both of her parents.
You do not get the impression that Caroline has ever worked up a sweat or raised her voice in a political contest.
Or as political consultant Hank Sheinkopf puts it:
“She has not run a state campaign. She has not run a local campaign. She has not been in combat which is the state of politics in New York and anywhere else.”
What helps the Kennedy mystique is that none of its heroes looked like heroes when they started out.
Jack Kennedy was hardly an important senator when he challenged and beat an incumbent vice-president in 1960, became our first Catholic president, continued the battle against school segregation, kept his cool during the Cuban missile crisis, and made millions feel he could help make the world a better place.
Teddy was expelled from Harvard for cheating, was considered a careless driver even before the Chappaquiddick disaster, came to the Senate at age 30 with no particular qualifications, but became the “Lion of the Senate” and the liberal conscience of that body, now vowing to continue his 40-year service despite his malignancy.
Bobby first gained prominence working for Joe McCarthy, then as a crime fighter. He became brother Jack’s chief lieutenant and experienced a post-McCarthy epiphany, visiting poor blacks in the south, marching with migrant workers in California, and challenging our Vietnam War policy in which “the astounding weight of American power falls on a remote and alien people.”
The historical lesson about the Kennedys is never to sell them short. When Caroline decided she wanted the Senate seat once held by Uncle Bobby, she began acting like a candidate, hiring a top consulting firm, contacting key Democrats throughout the state, and making an upstate tour to win support.
She has already spoken to many of the key players—Paterson, Schumer, Chris Quinn, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Upstate Rep. Louise Slaughter, a bevy of labor leaders, and Al Sharpton.
She can count on strong morale and money support from the Kennedy clan, uncle Teddy and cousin Bobby Jr. among many others. If Paterson names her, she will have two years to create a Senate record, then run in 2010 to finish the Clinton term. Two years later, she would have to run again for a full term.
Early results of a Marist poll show her neck-and-neck with Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney-general, whose ambition knows no bounds, and who is also the offspring of a noted political figure, the three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo. The attorney-general’s former wife happens to be a Kennedy who is supporting Caroline.
At least three other Democrats with notable political experience have been mentioned as possible candidates for the Hillary seat, including Brown from Buffalo, Upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand and the “Silk Stocking” Rep. Caroline Maloney, who has been in Congress for 16 years and early on tossed her hat into the ring.
Should Paterson tap Caroline she would likely face some stiff GOP competition in 2010, from Rep. Peter King, and possibly from the self-proclaimed 9/11 hero, Rudy Giuliani.
Six years ago, Caroline was asked if she had an interest in public office. She answered in the negative, adding: “but I have a long life ahead of me.”
Apparently her Road to Damascus was the Obama campaign. She had been told that no president since her father had been as inspirational as he was, but she added: “For the first time I have found the man who could be that president,” meaning Obama. She did become active (in a very ladylike way) in the Obama campaign, and that experience may have altered her view about running for office.
It will be interesting to watch her performance as she faces tough questions on the controversial issues of the day, as well as the expected skepticism challenging her qualifications. Stay tuned.