Posted by: Randy Allgaier | December 29, 2008

Caroline Kennedy: The Media Feeding Frenzy


Fist the caveats- I live in California and I don’t have a dog in this fight so I really do not have any strong feelings one way or another about Caroline Kennedy’s bid for being appointed to the US Senate to fill Secretary of State Designate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seat.

When there was speculation about Caroline Kennedy having interest in the Senate seat the media had a great deal of interest and it all seemed rather positive. But the moment that it was clear that Ms. Kennedy was serious the media turned like a pit of vipers.

I think Governor Paterson and the people of New York state have every right to ask where a potential appointee stands. It is not a requirement for the people to weigh in on the appointment- they’ll get their chance to do that in 2010 because New York state requires a special election and then they’ll get to do it again in 2012 when that seat naturally comes up for election.

That being said- the media are obsessed with Ms. Kennedy’s qualifications and positions. I have heard scant mention of what positions New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (a reported front runner for the appointment) holds or anything about Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi and Representatives Kirsten Gillibrand, Carolyn Maloney and Brian Higgins. True all of them with the exception of Suozzi have a record, but we sure aren’t hearing about those records right now- all we hear is about Caroline Kennedy’s gaffes. Yes Andrew Cuomo has been HUD Secretary (where by many accounts his tenure was disastrous) and NYS Attorney General- but would he have become HUD Secretary had it not been for his last name?   I won’t even go into the Kennedy – Cuomo family connection / divorce.

The media are salivating for any mistake Ms. Kennedy makes. I agree she hasn’t handled her “campaign” well, but why should she be campaigning anyway? It’s an appointment for 2 years and then there is a real election.

Our nation was founded as a nation that had citizen politicians and our national principles are that anyone has a right to high office- political experience is not a requirement. The founders had not designed the constitution to have a political class nor for politicians to be careerists. True Ms. Kennedy comes from the highest echelons of political dynasties, but that shouldn’t be held against here either. The constitution spells out the qualifications- a citizen who is 30 years or older- that’s it period.

Ms. Kennedy offers a rather eclectic resume. Besides her work with charities and groups connected to her family, she co-wrote two books, “In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action” and “The Right to Privacy,” and wrote three books (two of them poetry). She is chief executive for the New York City Department of Education Office of Strategic Partnerships, a board member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and vice chairwoman of the Fund for Public Schools in New York City.

The Kennedy case is analogous to Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s seat. Last month, the outgoing Delaware governor appointed Biden’s longtime friend and close aide Ted Kaufman to fill Biden’s vacant seat.

Kaufman is widely thought to be warming the seat until Biden’s son Beau can return from military duty and run in a special election in 2010.
There was also controversy surrounding Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Senate seat. In 1960 LBJ ran on the Democratic ticket as vice president, but he also ran for U.S. Senator from Texas (as Biden did in 2008 in Delaware).

Johnson won the election easily, and his seat was given to William Blakely, a businessman and good friend of the Texas governor. Blakely went on to become the first Texas Democrat to lose a U.S. Senate race in 80 years when John Tower beat him in a May 1961 special election.

Nepotism also has a rich history in Senate appointments — most famously in 2002 when longtime Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski was elected governor and therefore had the power to appoint his own Senate successor. His choice? His daughter, Lisa, a state legislator at the time.

With the advantage of two years in the office and the name recognition of her father, Lisa Murkowski went on to win the special election in 2004 and is still in the Senate.

When Sen. John Chafee died suddenly in 1999, the governor of Rhode Island appointed Chafee’s son Lincoln to the seat. Lincoln Chafee went on to serve seven years in the Senate.

And the notorious Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards raised eyebrows in 1972 when he appointed his wife, Elaine, to fill a Senate vacancy for four months.

Appointing the spouses of deceased senators has a long history as well. Four times over the past half-century, the wives of senators who died in office have been appointed.

Ms. Kennedy bar seems to be set higher than most. I have no idea whether or not she would be a good Senator, but I have no idea if any of the other potential appointees will either. Nassau County Executive doesn’t sound like the big resume ticket folks say they are looking for.

I understand that people believe have a visceral reaction to someone being in office because of their last name- but Congress and state houses around the country are filled with it- not to mention two sets of father/son Presidents.

I find it rather refreshing to see someone who has been clearly a private person being inspired by President-elect Obama’s election to consider losing that privacy to the rough and tumble of politics and the viciousness that seems incumbent with politics. Clearly I am not thrilled that she didn’t vote in every Democratic primary but do we know what voting habits the other potential appointees have? That hasn’t been reported.

I’m not advocating for or against Ms. Kennedy, but I find the media’s behavior rather ugly. It almost seems as if they set her up to take the plunge for the sheer purpose of eviscerating her later- after all it’s all about profits for them isn’t it?

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Responses

  1. I think your points are well made.

    As an observer from NZ I would like to reinforce your comments on media treatment


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