Thursday, January 8, 2009

Not So Sweet on Caroline

The appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton has become an unfortunate fait accompli for New Yorkers, and especially New York’s democrats who are about to get a Senator whose sole qualification for the job is a surname. Don’t get me wrong, American history is full of famous political dynasties. Even in today’s U.S. Senate, names like Bayh, Casey, Clinton, Kennedy, Murkowski and Udall stand out as a testament to America’s deep and abiding love of nepotism.

However, in most cases, these office seekers actually work their way up the ladder before going for the big seats and are usually careful not to offend voters with their presumptuousness. Caroline Kennedy on the other hand, has zero political experience but so much hubris I doubt her head would fit under the Capitol dome. Without ever having served in public office or having done much at all on the public stage, Kennedy now expects, almost as a matter of entitlement to be handed a U.S. Senate seat, as if they were hereditary titles reserved for America’s political royalty.

This should bother democrats, especially after having laughed Sarah Palin off the national stage (and rightfully so) for not having sufficient experience. I would say Caroline Kennedy is in the same league as Palin, but that would be giving credit where credit isn’t due, I’m afraid. And let us not forget that we have just suffered through eight long years of incompetent administration by a patently unfit product of nepotism. One would think that Democrats especially would be tired of seeing the wrong people pushed up the political ladder for the wrong reasons.

Instead, Democrats seem unphased that Caroline Kennedy is about to be anointed Senator, largely as payback for her and her Uncle Teddy’s early support for Barack Obama. That the most unsavory kind of horse-trading and influence peddling went on behind the scenes to help elect the candidate of “change” and “hope” doesn’t leave me feeling too optimistic that the next four years will bring much of either.

The real losers in all of this are the countless New York democrats who are far more deserving of this Senate seat than Caroline Kennedy. New York is full of creative, bright, innovative political talent slogging it out in the real world trying to find solutions to the problems that plague this state. It is a slap in the face to them and a loss to us that they should be brushed aside because Caroline Kennedy woke up and decided she wanted to be a U.S. Senator.

It also wouldn’t hurt to bring some balance to the state by appointing an Upstate democrat to the seat. Think about it, all the top political positions in New York are currently held by Downstaters: Paterson, Smith, Silver, Skelos, Cuomo, DiNapoli, and our Senior Senator Charles Schumer. All of these guys are either from New York City or Long Island.

If ever there was a devastated region in desperate need of a voice it is Upstate NY. Why not put in somebody like Rochester’s congresswoman Louise McIntosh Slaughter, a progressive Democrat who has spent over 20 years in Congress as an advocate for labor, the environment, civil rights, women’s rights and economic justice? The same can be said for Representative Maurice Hinchey of Saugerties, who would be my second choice.

Since Upstate NY’s metropolitan regions have been hit hardest by global economic shifts over the past 30 years, cities like Buffalo, Rochester and Binghamton ought to be tapped as political farm teams for people who know Upstate’s problems and have thought long and hard about how to begin addressing them. Buffalo’s Byron Brown and Binghamton’s Matt Ryan are two examples of progressive Democratic mayors who have tried innovative approaches to solve their cities’ ongoing economic problems.

This is the real tragedy behind Caroline Kennedy’s likely appointment: The loss to our state of a voice who has the experience, the understanding and the will to make a difference where it matters most.

In the coming years, we are going to desperately need leaders who understand the problems that face our communities and, more importantly, understand what is needed to tackle them. It is for this reason that our state and our country simply can not afford to indulge the Park Avenue socialite who wants to play Senator.


Anonymous said...

Wow...I finally agree with something you have said! I don't, however believe that she will be the final choice (fortunately). I think Andrew Cuomo will get the nod, even though, as you point out, there is a lot more talent out there…

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