Who needs qualifications when your name is Kennedy?
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg knows this better than most. It is no coincidence that her last name has morphed from Schlossberg back to Kennedy just as she embarks upon a career in politics. The New York Times reports that the heiress to Camelot has decided to pursue the Senate seat that Hillary Clinton will vacate upon confirmation as secretary of state. She will reportedly express her interest in the seat directly to New York Gov. David Paterson, who decides Clinton’s replacement.
But what, other than nepotism and nostalgia, would prompt Paterson to seriously consider John F. Kennedy’s daughter as a replacement for Hillary Clinton? Even Congressman Gary Ackerman, a liberal Democrat from Queens, pleads ignorance of her qualifications for the office beyond “that she has name recognition — but so does JLo.”
Schlossberg’s résumé is not thin but confusing. It is laden with positions devoid of responsibility. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg sits on foundation boards, places her name (as her dad did) on books, and serves as an adviser, whatever that entails, to the Harvard Institute of Politics. But one would be hard-pressed to determine, precisely, what she does for a living: With her Onassis/Kennedy fortune, she has never had to work. Other than trade her famous maiden name for honors, what has she done to earn appointment as a U.S. senator?
One could forgive Schlossberg for the sense of entitlement. It runs in the family. No qualifications, many disqualifications — the job is yours. That is the Kennedy way.
Grandfather Joe Kennedy, who made millions in insider trading and other stock swindles, somehow greased his way into becoming the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Robert F. Kennedy Sr. had never tried a single case in a courtroom before President John Kennedy appointed him attorney general, and the fact that they were brothers was an obvious conflict of interest. Schlossberg’s uncle Ted had never held a paying job, save for a two-year stint in the army, before election to the Senate in 1962.
So magical was the Kennedy name in postwar Massachusetts that an unrelated political neophyte who worked in a Gillette razor-blade factory’s stockroom and was blessed with the name “John F. Kennedy” actually won election to several terms as state treasurer. If the high-school dropout John Francis Kennedy could crudely parlay the last name into an undeserved office, then actual relatives of the real John F. Kennedy — his brother Ted, his nephews Joe and Pat, and now, his daughter Caroline — certainly could too.
Save for a two-year respite upon John Kennedy’s elevation from the Senate to the presidency, when the incoming president pressured the governor of Massachusetts to award his Senate seat to his Harvard roommate as a placeholder until brother Ted met the Constitution’s age requirements, a Kennedy has served in the Senate for the last 56 years. In the mid-1960s, Ted and Bobby Kennedy became the first brothers to serve together in the Senate since the early 19th century. With the youngest Kennedy now becoming the family elder, and suffering from brain cancer, the appointment of the 51-year-old Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to the Senate presumably guarantees a Kennedy seat in the upper chamber for years to come.
In Illinois, Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly attempted to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President-Elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder. In New York, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg makes a hereditary claim on a seat currently held by Hillary Clinton, herself the beneficiary of her famous last name. Though birthright claims upon political offices do not offend the law as monetary claims upon political offices do, the fact that they offend democratic sensibilities may be enough to jettison Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s grab at the Senate seat once occupied by her uncle Bobby. Or, given her family’s successful track record of trading the Kennedy name for high office, it might not.
Forty-six years ago, Schlossberg’s uncle Ted was publicly humiliated by Edward McCormack in a debate preceding Massachusetts’s 1962 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. McCormack, a nephew of the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who had served two terms as the Bay State’s attorney general and had presided over Boston’s city council, resented the Kennedy way of starting at the top. If his opponent’s name were Edward Moore, McCormack told a packed, sweaty basketball gymnasium in South Boston, instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, his candidacy would be a joke. Nearly a half-century later, New Yorkers should be saying the same thing about Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.
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