- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008



If the governor of New York appoints Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to take Hillary Clinton’s seat in the U.S. Senate, it will likely be because of the Kennedy name, but not necessarily because the governor himself is wowed by it.

It will be because he assumes others will be wowed, and that this daughter of a revered president will have enormous public support redounding to the benefit of the Democratic Party.

Such reasoning could very well be right, for we have seen this before - the political success of George W. Bush has something to do with a last name, after all, and electoral contests routinely demonstrate that political success can depend on all sorts of factors extraneous to any truly important qualification for office.

Going back at least to the ancient Greeks, observers have questioned whether democracies can be counted on to select able leaders. Won’t voters be swayed by prejudices or irrational resentments? Might they opt for good looks, sonorous voices and pleasant, likable personalities over analytical acuity? Will they disregard demonstrated competence in their enthusiasm for mere celebrity?

Even the best of candidates can often be counted on to kowtow to the lowest common denominator. I have come to the view that President-elect Barack Obama could be a good bet for this nation of ours. But his campaign was not as classy as some.

He bashed CEOs for the demagogic fun of it, was evasive on such issues as offshore drilling, embraced the ethanol fraud beloved by special interests, steered away from tough entitlements issues and misled voters on the contents of his opponent’s health insurance plan, for instance.

Despite that and his lack of experience, he is clearly a man of exceptional intellect and strong character. He is masterful in discussing issues and an outstanding speaker, and since the election has shown a sense of political balance. The same democracy that gives us governors such as Rod Blagojevich in Illinois has given us any number of outstanding leaders at all levels of government, including another governor who I think could be the salvation of the Republican Party - Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Has there ever been anyone in American politics quite like this wunderkind? While still in his 20s, this son of immigrant parents from India took on two major public jobs and excelled at them. As head of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, he removed a painful Medicaid deficit. He was also head of the Louisiana University System and his report card was worth showing off - excellence achieved, some say.

Mr. Jindal was executive director in Washington of a bipartisan commission on one of the nation’s foremost problems, Medicare. He was an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services and was twice elected representative. At 36, this Republican seems to be successfully governing a state with outsized problems.

Newsweek says he won’t run for president in 2012 but guesses he very well might in 2016, and yes, his record has to continue to be a good one and he has to be a talented campaigner for him to have a shot. Much obviously depends on what happens in government and the nation between now and then.

But while a famous name might give you an unfair boost in American politics, you can’t rule out the chance of someone with the last name of Jindal winning the land’s highest office anymore than you could rule out someone with the last name of Obama winning.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the other forms that have been tried.”

Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.

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