Commentary Magazine


The Death of a Princess’s Dream

Well, Caroline Kennedy has given up her quest to become the next Senator from New York. She gave the vague “personal reasons” excuse, and the New York Times‘s unnamed source hinted that it had to do with her uncle Ted’s health.

That doesn’t quite ring true, especially to anyone who can read a calendar. Senator Kennedy’s health has been front-page news for almost a year now. He announced his brain cancer last May. He had surgery for it in June, and in August was in such rough shape that he only attended a single night of the Democratic National Convention — where Caroline played a very prominent role. He was also rushed to the hospital for a seizure in September.

To presume that Caroline Kennedy was unaware of the seriousness of Ted’s health problems before Tuesday strains credibility. He is not only her uncle, but the patriarch of her family. She had to have been aware of things before she announced her interest in Hillary’s Senate seat last December 15.

The only thing to have changed since then has been Caroline’s public image and the decreasing likelihood of her being given the seat. Her stock in the public eye has crashed and burned spectacularly ever since people had a chance to actually see her for who she simply is, and not the fairy-tale princess image she’s cultivated for decades.

One school of thought has it that she is now in line to be awarded Ted’s seat upon his death or resignation, but that possibility doesn’t seem too likely, either. The seat will be assigned by Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, and he is not exactly a strong Kennedy ally. Indeed, Patrick is struggling with his own unpopularity at the moment — he’s been pretty much a disaster as governor — and will be up for re-election next year. He needs all the allies he can get, and the Kennedy political machine is nowhere near what it used to be. It can get Kennedys elected, but that’s about it.

Also, the twin figures of Kennedy and Kerry in the Senate have posed a logjam for Massachusetts Democrats for decades. They’ve been in the Senate since 1962 and 1985, respectively. That means that for over 20 years, no Democrats have been able to progress above the position of representative. The thought of getting a chance at one of those Senate seats sent Massachusetts Democrats into a frenzy in 2004, when Kerry was the Democratic nominee, and his defeat was a personal blow to many who coveted his seat.

Were Patrick to allow Caroline to pull a reverse of what her uncle Bobby did and move to Massachusetts just in time to become a senator, every single Democrat who thought he or she had a shot at that Senate seat would be livid. Many of them have spent decades “paying their dues” in the Bay State, and for Patrick to award that most coveted prize to another Kennedy — who in all likelihood, will camp there for at least a couple of decades — would infuriate and unite all of them in punishing Patrick in return.

No, it’s most likely that Caroline Kennedy’s political career is over before it began. The most probable explanation is that New York’s Governor Paterson quietly sent word to her that she was not going to get the seat, and should probably take her name out of the running if she wanted to save any face at all. Paterson will appoint someone else, Ted Kennedy will remain in the Senate, and Caroline will go back to doing whatever she did before Hillary Clinton was nominated to be Secretary of State.