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Posted in: Feminism

Published on Dec 16, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

The Princess Ascendant: Caroline Kennedy's Bid for the Senate


As I was deciding what I'd write about today, imagine my surprise and delight when I came across a certain quote in today's lead New York Times article about Caroline Kennedy's decision to seek Hillary Clinton's Senate Seat. Joel Klein, the Chancellor of New York City's public schools, favors her anointment (whoops, I meant appointment), and said that Kennedy's recent campaigning for President-elect Obama "got her blood flowing."

In other words if her blood has begun to stir, even at this late date, it would be an act of noblesse oblige, on the part of We, the People, to allow our dynastic princess this small boon. After all, she does know "everyone," they will all take her calls. And, her family has sacrificed at least three sons for this nation. In the grand tradition of the House of Lords, if the only peer left standing is a woman, with absolutely no formal political experience, duty still obliges her to represent her family in Parliament… (whoops! I meant the Senate).

A flute player, Marie Owen, who was also interviewed in the article, "expressed admiration for Ms. Kennedy and said, 'I can't see her as being corrupt. It's not her legacy.'"

The romantic idealization of the Kennedy women, but especially of Caroline's late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, continues on. This is as close as America can come to the kind of royalty worship that Queen Elizabeth and the late Princess Diana still command among the plebes. Look: We are all brought up on fairy tales and the habit dies hard.

Pitted against Joel Klein's view (and that of the flute player), was the lone voice of a teacher, Shannon R. Berkowsky, who lives on the Upper East Side. Berkowsky noted that "Ms. Kennedy's positions on many issues were all but unknown, unlike those of many elected officials who have expressed interest in the seat. 'There are people who have worked hard their whole lives for the greater good who don't have the name, and should they be passed over?' Ms. Berkowsky said."

Ah, Shannon Berkowsky is also my beloved daughter-in-law! My son just told me that she had been approached last night by the reporter as she sat in a cafe waiting for a friend to join her. Shannon is hard-working, fair-minded, pragmatic, realistic, creative, and I think she has raised a quintessential American question. Are we a monarchy or a democratic Republic founded upon law and a world-class Constitution?

Shannon is too young to have lived through the bright, brief days of Camelot, (a myth which no amount of truth can ever puncture for its True Believers). But woe to our democracy, shamed and brought low by corruption in High Places, both financial and political. Even as I write, I can almost hear all the phones ringing on Kennedy's behalf in Governor Patterson's office, a Governor who also holds the fate of New York State's next Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in his hands. I hope he appoints the very excellent judge, Jonathan Lippman, but I, too, am only one lone voice. (What the hell, I also favor long-time, hard working, and feminist New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney who has certainly put in the time and who wants the job).

So: Hillary Clinton, the lawyer-former First Lady-carpetbagger from Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Arkansas and Washington D.C., handily won the Senate seat from New York. And, although she, too, had never before been elected to political office, many believe she did very well for us in her new position. She certainly did well for herself and, despite promises to the contrary, ran for the American Presidency and is now slated to be our next Secretary of State.

Is Caroline Kennedy made of the same stuff–or is she truly different from her predecessor? Does America really need aristocrats to take over the ship of state from elected pros like (the also born-wealthy) Spitzer, Blagojevich, and a truly long, long line of corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle?

Funny: The Times article has completely disappeared Kennedy's long-time married name (Schlossberg). And, maybe I missed it, but I haven't read many outraged and sputtering views which condemn Kennedy for daring to run without any previous experience. Remember how Sarah Palin was greeted? How dare she, who is she? Oh, she's the governor of an American state? But it's such a small state, and she has no national experience, and it's a rough-and-tumble insider's game in DC, etc.

Is Governor Patterson capable of turning away all that Kennedy and Obama money given that he himself faces a gubernatorial run in 2010? Would someone like Caroline Kennedy have risked "coming out" for a job if she didn't know that she already had it? Anyone wanna bet on what Governor Patterson will do?


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