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Forget That Merit Thing

Caroline Kennedy has dropped the tactic of explaining to the media her credentials and fitness for office. The blizzard of “you know’s” and the general absence of any unique views of her own ended that strategy. She’s meeting with local pols and with Governor Paterson. In public we get a new approach: her allies remind us, “Psst, she is a friend of the President-elect.” This report explains the new gambit:

While [Bronx County Democratic Committee chairman Jeffrey] Dinowitz said he thinks the governor has “lots of good people to choose from” when picking a replacement for Clinton (he specifically mentioned Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, along with AG Andrew Cuomo), he also agrees with Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey’s argument that Kennedy’s connection to Barack Obama should give her a leg up over the competition.
“I think it’s a very fair thing to say that her very strong relationship with President-elect Obama would be a very significant asset to the people of New York,” the assemblyman said.

“I don’t know that we’d suffer without her,” he continued. “I don’t think President Obama is going to say, ‘Caroline Kennedy isn’t a senator, and therefore I’m not going to do good things for New York.’”

“But having the relationship that she clearly has with Obama is a plus. It’s an asset that would enhance her ability to be a more effective senator and that would work to the advantage of New Yorkers. The importance of that should not be underestimated in my opinion.”

This suggests the pro-Kennedy forces have essentially given up the argument that Princess Caroline deserves the position on the basis of her own record. If Governor Paterson wasn’t moved by her familial relationships, maybe the relationship with the President-elect will have more appeal. Once again it is not about Caroline and what she has done, but whom she knows.

The argument is, at its core, insulting to the President-elect. Indeed the Caroline supporters defensively added that it is not as if the President-elect is going to stiff New York without her. Well if so, then what’s the point of raising the connection? If President Obama is going to treat New York fairly no matter what (i.e. Caroline can’t get more than New York would otherwise reap), there’s no added value to be derived from Caroline’s appointment. It is tricky indeed to tout Caroline’s pull without simultaneously insulting the new president. Perhaps the real point is to threaten Paterson with some subtle form of retribution that will impact his own political fortunes.

Governor Paterson will have to decide whether Caroline’s invocation of the President-elect (as if Paterson didn’t already understand the connection) is the sort of subtle bullying that will carry the day. But he might look at her senatorial abilities a bit more critically. Each senator has only one vote so the trick is to line up majorities for your legislation. I wonder if the other ninety-nine senators will be impressed with the “Don’t you know who I am?” tactic. Paterson might want to keep that in mind — while he’s fretting about the legions of miffed friends and relations of Caroline who will descend on him if she’s not selected.


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