Clawing her way to the top: Caroline Kennedy's bid for the senate seat
I'd bet anything that Caroline Kennedy is a smart, decent, fun-to-be-around kind of person. Hey, if I knew her, I bet I'd like her.
I'd also bet that, in terms of sheer policy wonkiness, she'll probably make a smart, decent, fun-to-vote-around kind of U.S. Senator. I'd bet she'd be thoughtful, measured, and calm. I'd bet she'll work hard.
But there's something that I find plenty obnoxious about deciding, mid-life, that it might be challenging, interesting, personally fulfilling, and rewarding to become a U.S. Senator - and having the ability to "work your network" to get the job.
Nothing against working your network.
It's how I've gotten most of my jobs.
But all of these jobs follow the career trajectory of a B2B technology marketing professional. And my bona fides? They're all there on my résumé - from the "applied marketing" courses I took in B-school on up (or down, depending on how I'm feeling about that career trajectory on any given day).
Yet for all her accomplishments, I'm guessing that there's not all that much on Caroline Kennedy's résumé that screams U.S. Senator. Yes, she's written some well-received books, and she's raised a lot of money for good causes. Unquestionably, she's got great connections and friends in high places. And it's no doubt those friends in high places, those great connections, that have made it easier for her to both get her work published, and get her requests for a big, fat donation to those good causes answered with a big, fat donation.
Not to invalidate her experiences - she wrote the books, she got the checks written, and she has (of course, of course) "lived" a fair bit of history. But I suspect that when she went looking for a publisher, she wasn't exactly throwing her manuscript in over the transom - and collecting enough rejection letters to paper one of her many bathrooms. Nor do I suspect that when she makes her fundraising "asks" she gets a lot of turn downs.
There may be, I will admit, some element of sour grapes on my part. I wish some publishing macher were gushing for my book, and that a recent ask I made for a capital campaign donation for a cause near and dear to my heart wasn't met with a "call me back when the Dow hits 10,000". (Trust me, I will call back when that day comes. In fact, I have a Post-It note reminding me to do so, stuck to the wall over my desk.)
It strikes me as unfair for Caroline Kennedy - or anyone else, for that matter - to backdoor their way into a plum position like U.S. Senator without, at least, having ever subjected themselves to the rough and tumble of the electoral process.
I'm actually okay with Caroline Kennedy - or anyone else, for that matter - starting at the top, if she's willing to duke it out in a bloody electoral fight, in which her lack of experience as an elected officeholder becomes a campaign issue that she manages to put aside (or not). And in which she can demonstrate her depth of knowledge on the national issues of the day, as well as on the more narrow, state-related issues in New York. (What's happening in Syracuse these days, anyway?)
Barack Obama didn't have a hugely deep résumé with respect to governance when he decided to run for president. Like Ms. Kennedy, he's smart and an accomplished writer. But he sure went and put his dukes up, showing time and again during the long electoral process that he's tough, competent, and knowledgeable.
Neither of Massachusetts last two governors - Deval Patrick and Mitt Romney - held electoral office before they decided to run for governor. But they both mounted (and bankrolled) campaigns that got them the job. No one gave it to them.
Would Caroline Kenney be running for the Senate if she actually had to run-run, and not glide in through an appointment?
If I were a voter in New York, I'd be asking this question.
Of course, the appointed senator will have the vast benefit of incumbency. If Caroline Kennedy- or anyone else - thinks they can wait it out for two years, they surely know they'll be in for a fight. But maybe she should at least answer tough questions, unfiltered and unmediated. Let her demonstrate her chops, her toughness, her knowledge and wit. Let her show the NY voters that she understands that "politics ain't beanbag." Let her show the NY voters that she's got some sharp elbows, that she can give it and take it, and that she doesn't expect to be treated with kid gloved awe because of whose daughter she is.
I remember Caroline Kennedy the cute little kid riding her pony Macaroni. I remember her clomping around on Jackie's high heels during JFK's first press conference. I remember singing along with the "novelty" song on the radio:
My daddy is the president.
What does your daddy do?
We live in a big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue...
I watched, riveted and weepy, every bit of the drama around JFK's funeral, including Caroline in her pale blue coat - as we saw later in Life Magazine: TV coverage was all black and white - as the caisson brought her father's body to lie in state, and as her younger brother gave his famous salute. (I was an Irish Catholic kid living in Massachusetts. This was "our" president. This was personal.)
There is much to admire about Caroline Kennedy, not the least of which is that she's conducted her life with dignity and purpose, and has managed to provide virtually no grist for the gossip mills - which, given her lineage, and our insatiable hunger for such grist, real or manufactured, is no small accomplishment.
I'm a few years old than Caroline Kennedy, and, you know what, I'd like another job, too.
In fact, I'd like Maureen Dowd's job. I think it'd be challenging, interesting, personally fulfilling, and rewarding to be a syndicated columnist. Too bad I didn't think of this 30 years ago, when I might have been able to build that sort of career for myself.
But I didn't.
So tough luck to me.
And, although it's looking increasingly unlikely that he'll do so, I really hope that David Paterson says tough luck to Caroline Kennedy - for her sake, as much as for anything else. No one's life is ever free of hard knocks. Caroline Kennedy has certainly had her share of personal ones, made all the harder because they've been so public. Yet her professional career has been one of a degree of privilege that few of us enjoy. Most of us actually need the money. And for most of us, there's plenty of disappointment and rejection. We don't get the call back we wanted. We don't get a nibble, let alone the bite, even when the position sounded tailor made for us. We think we aced the interview, only to find out that someone else got the job. The promotion doesn't come through. The pink slip does.
Years ago, my sister Kathleen sent me a birthday card with the caption, "I clawed my way to the middle."
Although "claw" may be something of an exaggeration, it's close enough to what was true then, and what's true now.
That's the way it is for most of us.
There's no danger that this is the way it's ever going to be for Caroline Kennedy. She's always going to have people who'll take her call. But maybe, just maybe, this time she's dialed a wrong number.
If she does get the appointment, it will be really interesting to see how she does in two years, when somebody with sharp elbows and the ability to throw and take a punch gets into the ring with her.
If she does get the appointment, I'll be rooting for Caroline Kenney to succeed.
Still, I'd much rather have seen her get the job by some way other than just deciding she wants it and asking for it.