Tuesday, December 16, 2008
There seems to be a tradition in this country of legacy selections/elections to the Senate -- and, of course, other offices as well. The first inkling I had of this was in high school, when I was hardly of a mind to have much of an opinion. I know I've mentioned it before: my parents -- especially my dad, who had some impact in the state, in the law and in education -- were close to a number of Oregon's politicians. Realizing it was some sort of honor but not sure exactly why, I had the opportunity at a young age to meet a few governors, senators, congresspersons. My brother spent a year in D.C. as a Senate page, chosen by Senator Richard Neuberger.
When Senator Neuberger died, after a somewhat arcane process that involved the appointment of an Oregon Supreme Court justice who served (as planned, I think) only a few months, Maureen Neuberger, Dick's wife, was elected to his seat. Having known her mostly as a very nice friend of my mom, it somehow seemed like a non sequitur. But I guess she served honorably, if not particularly notably. And she had, at one time, been a Congresswoman.
Hater of statuary, John Ashcroft lost his senatorial bid to a dead man, whose wife was then appointed to the job. Elizabeth Dole, who disliked spending time in the state she represented, presumably rode her husband's name into office. Evan Bayh paddled in on a Birch canoe. Lisa Murkowski (with whose mother I once had a professional relationship) might not have got there had her dad not been there first. And so it goes. Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes. Adamses, Roosevelts.
Which brings us to Caroline Kennedy.
She seems a smart and nice lady. I was quite moved by her speech endorsing Barack Obama. I assume you know she's the actual "Sweet Caroline" in Neil Diamond's song. (Whenever I hear it, I'm taken back to Vietnam, where it played regularly ((along with "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place" -- a much more evocative song, then and now)) in the Danang Officers' Open Mess, accompanied, during the "dah-dah-dah" part, by the banging of glasses on the bar. "Touching warm?" yechh. She was, what, eight years old when he wrote it?) Accomplished in other areas, she hasn't spent time in politics. Neither has Al Franken, of course; and I guess it's not a requirement. Still, given there are only a hundred senators, and given the disproportionate power they seem to have, it strikes me that fame alone isn't enough. Nor family. (I like Al Franken. I liked his book. I wish they'd have come up with a better opponent to that noxious Norm.)
Can you say no to a Kennedy? Would Governor Paterson's career end if he did?
I have nothing but admiration for Caroline Kennedy. It's not about her, really, that I find myself conflicted over the concept of her possible appointment. It's that at some level I'm amazed and off-put by the regularity with which celebrity seems to trump other criteria in national office. (And, sorry John McCain, Barack Obama was a celebrity because of his political craft and gifts, not the other way around.) Football players, actors, crats from Pluto, can start right at the top, no experience needed. Others, typically, start closer to the bottom. School boards, city government, state, tooth and nail. I like that way better.
Not that I'd turn down a Senate seat if it were offered.