The Kennedy Legacy

It is fascinating to see so much concern Caroline Kennedy might be appointed to the New York senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. All of a sudden, a number of Clinton supporters who are still unhappy Kennedy supported Obama in the primaries against Hillary Clinton are questioning “what does she know” about New York beyond the Upper East Side. And the ominous warning against dynastic politics is being raised.


If you remember, it worked for the Adams family during the early years of our republic, and echoes down through state and local government. Now it may not be the correct way government should work, but it is the way it works and sometimes it even works well. John Quincy Adams was a pretty good president and Ted Kennedy is a highly respected senator. What really carries this debate along is the insatiable maw of 24-hour cable television which chews every story beyond its importance to fill all the time.


It is true that the Kennedy name resonates, and Kennedys have been a significant force since Caroline’s father was elected to the presidency in 1960. Her uncle Bobby Kennedy held the same New York senate seat; and her uncle, Ted Kennedy has represented Massachusetts in the senate since the 1960s.


It has hurt Caroline Kennedy, that President George W. Bush, with one of the lowest approval ratings in history, is a dynastic figure who would never have been considered for the office if it hadn’t been for his father, the first President Bush and his grandfather, Sen. Prescott Bush. This president Bush is a pretty good argument against family names running for office, and especially anymore Bush family attempts at the presidency, even though a movement is already underway for brother Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, to make a run in 2012.


Nobody has made much mention of the Western dynasty of the Udalls, with the sons of former Congressman Mo Udall and former congressman/Interior Department Secretary Stewart Udall, both being elected to the senate in November. They are simply not as famous as the Kennedys, but in Arizona and New Mexico the cousins are significant figures from a significant family. They were, of course, both already serving in the House of Representatives and are political figures that have had to run for office.


There is something disingenuous, however, about the Hillary supporters who seem to have forgotten that the senator, who also had never been elected to office, moved to New York and established residency so she could run for the senate and be elected. Her only political experience was as first lady of Arkansas and the United States. Some might call that carpet bagging. I guess it depends on whose carpet is being bagged. At least Caroline Kennedy has lived her life in New York. I won’t argue that there aren’t extremely qualified office holders who have a right to be considered for Clinton’s senate seat as she moves on to become Secretary of State, and it isn’t fair that Caroline Kennedy becomes the front runner without ever soiling her hands running for political office. But who ever said anything, especially in politics, was fair.


If Caroline Kennedy is appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s term, she will have to face the voters in two years. The political reality is that her name recognition is significant and that is one of the most important factors in politics. She will be a formidable fund-raiser and because of the Kennedy name, will have influence in the Senate far beyond that of a freshman senator. With that kind of power behind her, she will be a powerful advocate for New York, upstate as well as the Upper East Side.  

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