Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Where’s The Hook?

Karen Tumulty is the latest to observe the capsizing of the HMS Caroline:

For most people, the salient biographical fact about Caroline Kennedy–let alone the reason to seriously consider her candidacy for the Senate–is her last name. Being a Kennedy has not exactly proved to be an obstacle to success over the past century of American life. You would think that someone with the Kennedy political DNA would have a better understanding of her relative head start in life, but thus far, the only thing Caroline Kennedy has established is that she hasn’t inherited the Kennedy charisma gene.
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Acquaintances say they find it hard to picture Kennedy putting up with constant badgering by the Manhattan tabs and TV outlets, or immersing herself in the intricacies of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

On policy questions, her answers have run from cautious to vague, except for her declared support for gay marriage. She does not appear to have given much thought to the specifics of what she would try to accomplish once in office–even on education, which presumably is her area of expertise, given the six years she spent as a volunteer raising money for the New York City public school system. In a contentious interview with the New York Times, she refused to engage in one of the hottest education debates of the day, declining to say whether she supported abolishing tenure for teachers and giving them merit pay instead.

(Tumulty, for reasons she does not make clear, still thinks Caroline will prevail.) Is it Caroline’s presumptuousness or her vacuity that has shattered the Kennedy aura? Both, it seems.

While it is true this is a prime moment for celebrity politicians (goodness knows we just elected the Oprah-endorsed new age icon), Caroline seems to be missing the “hook” — the element that allows her to both connect with the ordinary voter and simultaneously to provide rationalization for Governor Paterson to select her from the pack of lesser known, but more able competitors. She has none of the self-created narrative of Barack Obama, the populist charm of Sarah Palin, the brainy wonkish-ness of Bobby Jindal or the hard-bitten political tenacity of Hillary Clinton. She is the ultimate derivative — a packaged, ancillary product of unknown worth.

Caroline has said she’s not interested in running, simply in being selected. So David Paterson may escape by finding a diligent placeholder to block the ascension of the undeserving and unmotivated Caroline. It would not exactly be an act of political courage or a source of pride. But sometimes all we can do is muddle through.