Sanchez column: Ask not for plum political appointments
By Mary Sanchez
Tribune Media Services
Caroline Kennedy’s timing is impeccable. One shouldn’t expect any less from someone whose surname is synonymous with “Camelot,” all things gracious and semi-royal.
Problem is, her decision to finally put the family’s sterling brand name to personal use has come too late. She shouldn’t be rewarded with a New York Senate seat just because she wants it.
The backlash Kennedy is experiencing gives weight to the dawn of a new era: People are weary of those with influence calling the shots, expecting things that others earn, no matter how sincere the intention. Kennedy’s grab for the Senate seat that Gov. David Paterson must fill when Hillary Clinton moves to her appointment as secretary of state is a perfectly timed example.
Kennedy, now that she is finally acquiescing to interviews about her desire to be a senator, has said she felt called in part because of the Obama presidency.
“I think it’s a special moment in my life and in the life of this country, where there is this unique opportunity to help bring change to Washington,” she told the New York Times.
Yes, Obama has ignited a grassroots sense that everyone has a role to play in reshaping America. The idea that from the CEO to the parent leading the PTA, a civic role can be found. Kennedy is right to see the similarity of that message, and the messages of her father.
But the line was “Ask not what your country can do for you ó ask what you can do for your country.” Not: what plum job your country can hand to you.
Kennedy, in her beautifully written books on the constitution and work fundraising for New York Public schools, has upheld the Kennedy ideal of public service. But she is stretching the bounds of her family legacy to expect entry into the highest political echelons just because she wants it.
“Many people remember that spirit that President Kennedy summoned forth,” she said. “Many people look to me as somebody who embodies that sense of possibility. I’m not saying that I am anything like him. I’m just saying there’s a spirit that I think I’ve grown up with that is something that means a tremendous amount to me.”
Sorry, but that is an unfiltered sense of entitlement. A prime time airing of someone who not surprisingly soaked up the adoration that has surrounded her as a child of JFK. The Kennedy mystique. The idea that she inherently has a special quality to offer politics by birthright.
The rub is that the highly intelligent Kennedy likely would do a good job. Her connections with who’s who in New York, her ability to solicit cooperation from differing segments of the social strata ó all of that might bode well for a Sen. Caroline Kennedy, and by trickle-down for New York and the country.
But she’d need to earn the privilege of serving people, through an election. And that seems to be exactly what she has not wanted to do. Kennedy has been squirrely about this. A New York Times reporter asked her repeatedly if she would have run for the seat, or if she’d consider contesting it in 2010 if she is not appointed. Kennedy dodged the question so assiduously that the reporter remarked, “It sounds like you only want it if it’s handed to you.”
Kennedy has been hassled all her life on whether she would ever run for public office. And she likely has simply missed her moment. New Yorkers would have thrilled to hear her announce her candidacy for some office or other. A track record of having done that would certainly have stood her in good stead in her current bid for the Senate appointment. As it is, though, her apparent reach for privilege may hamper her ability to run for anything in the future.
The Kennedy political legacy is a noble one. Unlike other American political dynasties one could name, this one has stood the test of time. But those blessed with this hallowed name should not be able to use it to avoid the hard work of gaining public office.