You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

It Wouldn't Be A Disgrace

I have tried to steer clear of controversy about whether Caroline Kennedy should be appointed to succeed Hilary Clinton as senator from New York. I’m not shy about my opinion, but I’m worried in this case that I will show my age. I was in college when John Kennedy was president. I was never a big supporter. I probably preferred Fidel Castro at the time. But like everyone from that period, I remember exactly where I was I heard he was assassinated (waiting outside a classroom for a seminar on metaphysics to begin) and I still get a little weepy when I see those picture of John Jr. and Caroline afterwards with their mother.

I think it would have made most sense for Barack Obama to have appointed Caroline Kennedy a delegate to the United Nations in the manner of Shirley Temple Black or William F. Buckley. But I am not going berserk as my colleagues seem to be over the prospect that she will be appointed senator. The reason has to do, I suspect, with my understanding of political dynasties. There is a difference between the Kennedy dynasty and, say, the Biden, Clinton, or Bush dynasties. And the difference is that many Americans feel they owe the Kennedy family something for their service.

John and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Whether it is merited or not, they are seen as America’s Brothers Gracchi, the two Roman tribunes who were killed successively attempting to redistribute patrician lands. Much of the hope that the Sixties might have been different is vested in the memory of the brothers--in John the hope of having been able to avoid the Vietnam War and in Robert the hope of having been able to avoid the racial polarization that divided the country after 1968 and that destroyed the Democratic coalition. I think that Vietnam might have turned out differently; I have my doubts about 1968 and its aftermath. But like many people from that generation, I still nourish illusions that life might have been different.

And Ted Kennedy – the mediocrity who was foisted on Massachusetts votes in 1962. I was still in Massachusetts during part of that election, and if that wasn’t equivalent to an appointment, I don’t know what was. And then there was Chappaquiddick in 1969 that should have destroyed his career, but somehow didn’t. Yet, Ted Kennedy turned out to be, perhaps, the most outstanding Senator of the last forty years. So it’s not just name, and it’s not celebrity--we're not talking about appointing a movie star or a zillionaire--but it is a certain feeling of gratitude toward that family for what it has done for the country and a feeling that of all the current Kennedy descendants, Caroline just might turn out OK as a senator. I’m still not in favor of Caroline Kennedy being appointed--I am not deaf to arguments about experience, I don’t like the idea of senators having on the job training--but I am not, to tell you the truth, appalled, dismayed, disgusted or angered by the prospect.

--John B. Judis