Tuesday :: Dec 16, 2008

Would You Like to Get Elected Appointed to the U.S. Senate from New York? Please Contact David A. Paterson


by eriposte

[....and hope that the New York Times writes some articles about you...]

So, Caroline Kennedy wants to be appointed the next Senator from New York. The New York Times reflects some of the concerns in the blogosphere in this companion piece "Resume Long on Politics, but Short on Public Office".  In fact, the latter article provides thin gruel to substantiate its lead. Is her resume really "long on politics"? Not as far as I can tell. The talk about appointing her to the Senate is troubling to me - although, not because she doesn't deserve a chance to be a Senator. Let me explain.

Taylor Marsh is ambivalent about this, but says:

There are obviously good arguments to be made for other candidates besides CKS. The ones against Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg) begin because she's a Kennedy, which is part of the "aristocracy" nonsense. Remember, our Founders were rich land owners.

In general, dynasty- or aristocracy-based arguments against politicians running for office are not particularly compelling. Every citizen has a right to run for political office and the American people can and should decide whether to vote for those citizens regardless of the "dynasty" they belong to. That said the issue here is that Caroline Kennedy is not running for public office (indeed she never has). She is (legally) using a backdoor that is currently closed to the vast majority of American citizens, in order to get appointed to one of the most coveted political offices in the United States. The dynasty or aristocracy argument therefore becomes pertinent in this specific case - only because celebrity-like name recognition and dynastic political power provide unfair advantages of visibility and access to the Governor of NY State that the vast majority of citizens in NY state do not have. This is no fault of Kennedy, but it is certainly not acceptable to me that our political system allows these types of appointments.

Taylor also goes on to say:

The other is that she's not experienced enough. Again, when our Founders created the country they hadn't a clue what they were doing.

Well, our Founders fought for American independence and debated, developed and wrote the U.S. Constitution. I would argue therefore that they had some clue about what they were doing - so, I don't find this type of comparison compelling because it unfortunately minimizes the Founders and also sets an unnecessarily high bar for any modern Senator to cross (a comparison to the Founders).

Jeralyn at Talk Left is in favor of Kennedy becoming the next Senator from NY. She provides links to those questioning Kennedy's qualifications, then presents some arguments in favor of Kennedy and concludes:

I think she's more than qualified to be a U.S. Senator and I hope she gets the position. We need more Senators who are cognizant and respectful of our constitutional rights. She'll be great for education and funding for the arts.

She's outside the Washington power grid but knows how it works. Her celebrity will bring increased attention to the progressive bills she introduces, co-sponsors and supports. I think she's exactly the kind of change we need to bring to Washington.

I think Jeralyn's well-meaning argument completely misses the point.

The issue is not just whether Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be Senator, although one can and should ask what exactly makes one qualified to be a U.S. Senator. The real issue is how her resume compares to that of others who might be interested in becoming the next U.S. Senator from NY and what opportunities those people have to be given due and equal consideration.

Caroline Kennedy would not be elected to the Senate - if anything, she might be appointed. So, who is going to do the job that is usually done by voters - comparing her to others who seek the same position and deciding who is the best fit for the position? Is it just NY Gov. David Paterson? If so, shouldn't we be demanding that Gov. Paterson make this process extraordinarily transparent, invite applications from all those who seek this office, publish them online and make it clear exactly how he plans to decide on the eventual appointee? That, folks, is the only way in which this approach to picking Senators will have even a semblance of credibility. Celebrity, name recognition, political favors, backroom deals and the like should not determine the next U.S. Senator from NY, let alone from any other state (including, um, Illinois). So, if the progressive movement wants to get behind political reform, here is a major opportunity to push for that reform, before Senators from Illinois, New York, Delaware (and possibly Colorado) get appointed.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake hit some important points in her piece last week titled "Caroline Kennedy? Thanks But No Thanks". I'm going to excerpt a big chunk of her post:

Her leadership could have been really helpful when the rest of us were trying to keep the progressive lights on and getting the stuffing beaten out of us by a very well-financed right wing for the past eight years. But when things were tough, she was nowhere to be found.

Now that the Democrats are in power, she'd like to come in at the top. We have absolutely no idea if she's qualified, or whether she can take the heat of being a Kennedy in public life. She's certainly shown no appetite for it in the past. She'll have a target on her back and if she can't take it, if she crumbles, she will become a rallying point that the right will easily organize around.

The woman has never run for office in her life. We have no idea how she'd fare on the campaign trail, or how well she could stand up to the electoral process. She simply picks up the phone and lets it be known that she just might be up for having one of the highest offices in the land handed to her because -- well, because why? Because her uncle once held the seat? Because she's a Kennedy? Because she took part as a child in the public's romantic dreams of Camelot? I'm not quite sure.

There's an enormous problem in the Senate right now with entitlement, with the sense that its members owe their allegiance to each other and not to the public. Witness Joe Lieberman's recent confirmation of Homeland Security Chairman, when Democratic Senators circled the wagons and helped him hold on to power -- despite the fact that he refused to hold hearings into the government's response to Hurricane Katrina and protected billions of dollars in contractor graft from being investigated. Nobody, including Howard Dean, seemed to think that his performance record as head of the Committee was something that should even be taken into consideration.

The new Senate is going to face incredible challenges in the upcoming session, and we're lucky this year that it will be infused with some much-needed new blood. It's not a place for anyone to be wearing political training wheels. If Caroline Kennedy aspires to that lofty perch, let her run for something first -- her name recognition, political connections and ability to fund raise should make it a cake walk. It could be a tough year for Democrats in 2010. It would be good to have her in the game.

[Jane has a follow-up post here].

Let me just say that my position on this matter is simple enough.

First, I am opposed to the largely undemocratic process of Senators being appointed to office by Governors (regardless of whether it is allowed by State law).

Second, if a Governor has to pick a Senator, I would like to see high transparency and rigor in the process and a process that explicitly solicits applications from as many citizens as might be interested in this position.

Being a Senator is not an entitlement regardless of one's qualifications (or lack thereof) or endorsements and progressives ought to be screaming for transparency and inclusiveness regardless of whether our most favorite person in the world is likely to be the next Senator.

Here's how you can contact New York Governor David Paterson:

David A. Paterson
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

518-474-8390

Email

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