When then-First Lady Hillary Clinton announced she was running for senator from New York in 2000, critics were quick to dismiss her as an unqualified, over-ambitious political neophyte aiming to cash in on her husband's name.
Mrs. Clinton ran anyway and showed herself to be a formidable candidate, becoming the only first lady to run for office and the first female to represent New York in the U.S. Senate.
Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of a former U.S. president, is, like Mrs. Clinton, a distinguished author, lawyer and longtime advocate of worthy causes, particularly in education and the arts. Yet when she let it be known this week that she is interested in filling the Senate seat being vacated by Mrs. Clinton, the secretary of state designee in the Obama administration, the critics predictably howled that she was unqualified and a political neophyte aiming to reap the benefits of her famous family name.
Ms. Kennedy is going to have to prove them wrong. The public has always been curious about this most reclusive member of the Kennedy clan, who up to now has mostly eschewed electoral politics. Aside from her support for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, there's little on the record to indicate her views on significant foreign and domestic issues. And her case is somewhat different from that of Mrs. Clinton, who won her seat in the give-and-take of a hotly contested election that let voters know exactly where she stood on the issues of concern to New Yorkers. Ms. Kennedy, by contrast, would be something of an unknown quantity if she were appointed to the seat by New York's governor and didn't have to face voters until 2010.
Still, no one should dissuade people of talent and ability from an interest in holding public office, especially when integrity among elected officials is a major concern for voters. Ms. Kennedy compiled an admirable record of public service during her years of philanthropic work and is a person of considerable accomplishment. As a prospective member of the U.S. Senate from New York she would very likely bring the same dedication to that venerable institution, in which both her father and her two uncles served with such distinction.