- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2008




George Washington was the inevitable choice to lead this nation, but after The Revolution, there was some uncertainty on how he should be addressed. “Your highness”? “Your majesty”? The obvious final decision in this republic perilously liberated from royalty was “Mr. President.”

There was no debate on whether there should be titles of nobility like “lord,” “duke,” et al. The sixth president, John Quincy Adams, after serving in the Senate, did eventually follow his father, John, the second Mr. President. But in recent times there has been a rise of dynasties in our highest political offices: the Bushes in the Oval Office, and, of course, the Kennedy family.

After Sen. John F. Kennedy became president, Edward Kennedy began what has become more than four decades in the Senate. Robert Kennedy was the junior senator for New York before what might well have been his successful bid for the presidency had he not been assassinated.

Now, with Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York, about to become Barack Obama’s secretary of state, there is national and international excitement that New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson may appoint Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, JFK’s daughter, to the remaining two years of Mrs. Clinton’s term, leading to an interim election in 2010 and her run for a full second term in 2012.

Miss Kennedy (she did not change her name when she married) has informed Mr. Paterson that she wants the appointment. Among others she has consulted is erstwhile kingmaker, the Rev. Al Sharpton. Her uncle, the family patriarch, is, along with others in the family, working hard to add the Kennedy political dynasty. As the Dec. 7 New York Post headline puts it plainly: “Ted Wants Caroline.” Mr. Obama, while saying “the last thing I want to do is get involved in New York politics,” adds that Miss Kennedy, who campaigned for him, “is one of my dearest friends and a wonderful American.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg enthusiastically supports her candidacy: “Caroline Kennedy can do anything! She’s very experienced.” To add to her momentum, she has hired a political consulting firm with ties to “big doer” Bloomberg.

Mr. Bloomberg neglected to indicate what areas of experience qualify her for a Senate seat. After graduating from Harvard and Columbia Law School, Miss Kennedy has not run for any office, but she has engaged in various civic activities, mostly promoting the arts - serving, for example, as honorary chairwoman of the American Ballet Theater. She has written two competent books on civil liberties with Ellen Alderman: “In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action” and “The Right to Privacy.” However, they’re seldom cited in the literature of that field.

The eclat surrounding her candidacy reminds me of a television debate in Boston I watched long ago when a younger Edward Moore Kennedy was running for the Senate. At one point, his opponent, looking straight at him, said, “If your name was just Edward Moore, you wouldn’t be here.” There is no question that 51-year-old Miss Kennedy is genuinely civic-minded, and, like any American, is entitled to expand what she feels is her mission in life. But hardly any unrenowned American with such limited qualifications as hers for the Senate would have a chance at a seat in that body, which, however fractured by partisanship, has considerable power to affect our lives.

And these years, despite the illusory McCain-Feingold campaign-finance “reform” law, few Americans would have the financial resources to even contemplate running for the Senate in New York. If Mr. Paterson does appoint Miss Kennedy, her campaigns in 2010 and then for a full term in 2012 would cost $80 million by current fund-raising standards.

But that’s not a problem. In the Dec. 9 New York Times, David Halbfinger reports that Edward Kennedy’s “message, according to Democratic aides who were not authorized to discuss the conversations, is that Miss Kennedy, backed by her family’s extensive fund-raising network, would have the wherewithal to run back-to-back costly state-wide races.”

Significantly, the report adds that the ability of a Senate candidate to keep the seat for Democrats “is a key concern for Mr. Paterson, who has been deluged from every direction by politicians interested in the seat, which the governor is expected to fill early next year.” If that candidate is indeed Caroline Kennedy, her Republican opponent in one of the pivotal debates might gently say to her on television, “If your name were just Caroline Schlossberg, you wouldn’t be here.” Should Mr. Paterson wait until Mrs. Clinton officially becomes secretary of state and relinquishes her Senate seat, there is time now for Miss Kennedy to tell New Yorkers her specific positions on dealing with, among other issues, the economy, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the racial and economic gap in American education, and, in view of the books she has written, her views on restoring the separation of powers and other sections of the Constitution grossly abused by the Bush-Cheney administration.

We have many entitlements in this country, but a family-name entitlement to a Senate seat is not one of them.

Nat Hentoff’s column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.

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