A little Camelot appeals to recession-weary

The Baltimore Sun

Run, Caroline, run!

At a time of gloom and economic doom, we could use a little glamour. Depression-era Americans had Shirley Temple on the movie screen; recessionistas of today deserve a Senator Caroline Kennedy on Capitol Hill.

You've caught, no doubt, some of the breathless drama playing out in New York as various figures jockey to fill the Senate seat that will be vacated by Hillary Clinton when she becomes secretary of state. After a little, who-me bit of coyness, JFK's daughter now is openly coveting and actively campaigning to succeed Clinton, and just like that, she is the immediate front-runner to get it.

Places, everyone, and action!

There is nothing like a Kennedy to get the politico-industrial complex revving into high gear. Cue the theme of Camelot, alert the Kennedy devotees and the Kennedy haters and someone call Doris Kearns Goodwin, for heaven's sake.

But there are Kennedys, and then there is this Kennedy. Nothing against the less-celebrated cousins - isn't there one who makes documentaries, and is that the same one who is married to the Irish guy? - but Caroline is in a class all her own. The daughter of JFK, she is also his last survivor.

You have to feel sorry for New York Gov. David Patterson - if, that is, he actually is considering one of the other candidates - how do you say no to the closest thing America has to a princess? Of course, this being New York, there are any number of other candidates, such as Andrew Cuomo, himself a political scion but also someone messily divorced from another Kennedy.

(Why, by the way, does New York get all the drama, and given that, why does it try to horn in when the spotlight occasionally shines elsewhere - did you see New York magazine somehow has decided that President-elect Barack Obama is really from New York, not Chicago? Of course, given the possible spillover of the scandal over how Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has dealt with filling Obama's Senate seat, maybe the president-elect will decide he indeed is a New Yorker after all.)

Maybe you have to be, ahem, of a certain age to feel a rightness about the prospect a Senator Caroline Kennedy, that the charming child who frolicked in her dad's Oval Office and rode her pony on the White House lawn should now as a graceful adult return to Washington. It's irrational, no doubt, but something in me would like to see the circle closed.

That, of all the Kennedys, Caroline would be the subject of current poltical intrigue is something that would have been unimaginable a year ago. At 51, she has lived a largely private life, which of course has had the effect of making her that much more intriguing. Save for the occasional up-cropping at a charity ball, or the judiciously meted-out interview to promote her latest book or cause, she has existed mostly out of the public eye. In that, she has always seemed more Jackie than Jack, more society than politicky, more New York than Washington.

That all changed this year, when she made quite the smashing political debut, coming out to support Barack Obama and basically taking that torch from her father and placing it directly in Obama's hands. She campaigned for him during the primaries - against, of course, the woman she would replace in the Senate - and then helped vet candidates for vice president.

Now she doesn't want to go home. And why should she - if she believed enough in Obama to work to put him in office, why wouldn't she want to see things through beyond Inauguration Day?

It's been funny to see detractors grousing about Kennedy as a dynastic heir, or her lack of previous office-holding, particularly when she would fill the seat of someone who, for all her skills and ultimate success in the office, largely entered the world of elective politics as a wife-of.

Is Kennedy qualified? I don't know, but then, I'm not sure what the qualifications are for a senator, other than winning people over, whether it's voters electing you or a governor appointing you. She's never held elected office, but neither had Bill Frist (doctor) when he became Tenessee's senator and ultimately majority leader. She conceivably could join Al Franken (comedian) in the Senate. And, if you're looking at all elected offices, surely she'd have taken no odder a path than former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (professional wrestler) or current Califoria Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (professional terminator).

She has the law degree that so many senators come with, and has even written a couple of books on the subject. But of course, what really sells her candidacy is her celebrity.

That, of course, is the ultimate insult these days in the political world, as if there were no difference between the fame of a starlet and that of a political heiress, between someone who alerts the media when she shows up at the opening of an envelope and someone who has lived a largely quiet, serious life, writing books, raising a family and working on causes from the arts to education to her father's presidential library.

If I were a New Yorker, I wouldn't mind having a senator who can pick up the phone and, say, get Bill Gates on the line, as she did when lobbying for funds for New York public schools. Or one who to date hasn't been caught in any scandals involving contractor freebies or bathroom sex.

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