Category: Archive

Family connections all over the place

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In recent weeks all manner of commentators and critics have been expressing shock and outrage over Kennedy’s possible appointment to the U.S. Senate from New York. They apparently feel that Kennedy is trading on her famous last name to win the appointment.
And we’re supposed to be surprised?
Kennedy’s critics really need to get out of the television studio more often. There’s a big world out there, and some very nice parts of it are inhabited by the children and grandchildren of famous, powerful people who have succeeded not by merit alone. Fair? Perhaps not. Shocking? Perhaps only to the blessedly innocent folks who inhabit conservative talk radio and television.
If we are going to disqualify Caroline Kennedy from the job she seeks simply because her father was president of the United States, why didn’t we hold George W. Bush’s family connections against him eight years ago?
(Ooops. Most of us did, but most of us don’t sit on the Supreme Court.) Was it OK that Mitt Romney, son of a Michigan governor, served as governor of Massachusetts and ran for president last year?
I understand that republics were founded to do away with government by dynasty and aristocracy. Yes, it does seem a little undemocratic that so many children of politicians are themselves politicians. But let’s not pretend that the Kennedys somehow started us on the road to neo-royal rule.
Consider this! The person who will decide whether or not Kennedy gets the job is Governor David Paterson, son of a prominent New York politician from a generation ago. Kennedy’s main opponent is New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
The nepotism rap against Kennedy clearly needs a little more thought.
I should confess that I like the idea of Caroline Kennedy in the Senate, although, as a New Jerseyan, I don’t have a horse in this field.
For my money, the Kennedys are a flawed but admirable lot who have chosen civic engagement over any number of other fields open to them. I understand that some people get the willies when they see government offices treated like family heirlooms. But I object to those who single out the Kennedys as examples of nepotism gone wild.
Look at it this way: Few of us are surprised when the son or daughter of a lawyer heads off to law school, or when a writer’s child produces a good book.
Mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark has followed in the formidable footsteps of her mother, Mary Higgins Clark. Barry Bonds went into his father’s line of work, baseball. Jim Dolan took over Madison Square Garden from his father, Charles. I understand that a few members of the Barrymore clan were big into acting, and that the music racket attracted quite a number of people named Bach.
Should we be surprised, then, to see children and grandchildren of politicians getting into the family business? Personally, I don’t know why any kid would choose politics after having been exposed to the demands, sacrifices and downright craziness that are part of a politician’s daily life. But I’m told that there are certain types of people out there who like the idea of wielding power, especially when it can be brought to bear against enemies, real and imagined.
Caroline Kennedy is a mature woman of impressive achievement who, by all accounts, sincerely wishes to try something sort-of new. She has never held or run for office before, but, as we know, she is fairly close with a politician or two. She may not know how many Senators are required to achieve a quorum, but then again, a few of her would-be colleagues would seem hard-pressed to spell “quorum.”
I hear a lot of blather about experience and her supposed lack thereof, but two movie stars managed to get elected governor of California without a whit of political experience. One of them went on to bigger and better things, as you may recall. And in 1940, the Republican Party nominated a businessman, Wendell Wilkie, for president despite his nearly non-existent experience in government.
They say that politics ain’t bean bag, meaning it isn’t for those easily bruised. But it also ain’t brain surgery.
I wouldn’t trust my brain to an amateur with a hacksaw – no, that’s one mistake I’ll never repeat – but I’m OK entrusting my tax dollars to an honest, earnest 50-year-old woman who has been around government her entire life. I have a feeling Caroline Kennedy wouldn’t have a hard time grasping the nuances of Senate life.
As for the family-legacy criticism, nobody in New York can take such an argument seriously, not when the governor is named Paterson and Kennedy’s main rival is named Cuomo. Both gentleman appear to be very good at what they do; but neither could argue with a straight face that they got where they are today by talent and merit alone.
And that’s OK, for crying out loud. Listen, if one of my children were foolish enough to aspire to a newspaper career, do you think I’d make a phone call or two on their behalf? (Well, actually, I’d try, but I wouldn’t be very successful. Most of my onetime newspaper colleagues have been declared surplus goods, but that’s another story.)
If we don’t find dynasties offensive in the arts, in sports, in trade unions, in the civil service, why should we object to political legacy projects?
Envy, I guess. Or maybe it’s not about legacies in general. Maybe it’s just about the Kennedys. That’s my guess for what it’s worth.

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