Caroline, no?

December 21, 2008 at 10:32 am | Posted in U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

In news which may come as a shock to those who wrote melodramatic op-eds about the election of an unknown, untested and altogether unlikely-sounding black man to the office of President, it turns out that Barack Obama’s Historic! Change-making! Victory! hasn’t forever banished nepotism, elitism and the long-stay permanance of political dynasties from holding great influence over public life.

Lest he upset some very wealthy Manhattanites and disrupt what the media and her society cheerleaders have already hyped-up as her long-delayed coronation as queen of Camelot, New York Governor David Paterson will name Caroline Kennedy as his state’s next Senator, replacing the outgoing (and, for all her faults, studiously competent) Hillary Clinton.

If it does happen, it should be troubling on a number of levels. First, whilst Ms Kennedy might well become as impressive and dilligent a Senator as her predecessor, she has shown precious little evidence of it thus far. She has no experience in legislative politics, no substantive record of public service, has not given a press conference in support of her candidacy and all that is really known of her political views are the brief answers she (or her advisers) gave to questionnaires submitted by the Times and the Politico.

Of those answers, there are some telling gaps in either her knowledge or her openness. When asked about her views on the future of New York’s enormous financial sector, her team responds with “at this time, Caroline does not have a specific plan to fix New York’s financial services industry”, instead pledging to work with her peers. When querstioned on local issues, like the budget for New York State or education reform, her answers are similarly vague, and a question about Israel was batted away with the most banal political platitudes.

And then there’s the issue of restoring another political dynasty. DailyKos diarist Morus found that the US Senate is actually more heriditary than the UK’s House of Lords, with 15% of its members being directly related to previous or current holders of high office. For a country which fought a revolution to banish such privileges, I imagine this is enough to give anyone pause for thought.

Of course, you’ll find hereditary aspects to many other professions besides politics, from the modest, family-run business to the world’s largest media empire. But what makes political dynasties different is their access to the machinery of power, as well as their ability to sell the ‘brand’ of their surnames to the general public in a way which sometimes obscured their policies or competence. For Caroline, the Kennedy brand seems to be used as a substitute for demonstrable experience in public service, and whilst the people of New York will eventually have the chance to decide whether or not she’s done her ‘brand’ and her state justice, I think it’s unlikely that someone with the same CV but a less illustrious surname would be on the verge of taking a seat in the United States Senate.

None of which necessarily means she’ll be bad at her job, of course. But for as long as glitzy political brands are favoured over unfashionable, hard-working public servants, the practice of egalitarianism and social mobility will always be somewhat stifled.

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