Caroline Kennedy, Nine Enemies and One Ingrate

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William Howard Taft, the last American president with facial hair, famously said that “every time I make an appointment, I create nine enemies and one ingrate.” (Or maybe it was “one ingrate and twenty enemies.”) We can assume that Taft’s mustache makes him an expert at such things, in the same way that Rod Blagojevich’s “toupee that is also wearing a toupee” disqualifies him from making any credible observations in this arena.

So, as the press tingles over the possibility of Caroline Kennedy taking uncle Bobby’s senate New York senate seat, let us pause to consider the enemies and the ingrate that now beset New York Gov. David Paterson. From now until the moment he decides, the press will portray Paterson’s dilemma as a light switch, a white-and-black choice between Kennedy and Other. But for a New York governor the pressures are far more complex. He must grapple with a power struggle between upstate and downstate interests. There are machines in Buffalo, the Bronx and Long Island that want a shot at the treasure chest. There are ethnic frustrations within the Democratic party, particularly within the Latino caucus. There is the need for the new appointee to be able to raise lots of money ($30 million or more) for reelections in both 2010 and 2012. There is the fact that Paterson would have to share a ticket with his appointment in 2010 and the alluring possibility of picking a rival to prevent a primary challenge, someone like Andrew Cuomo, perhaps, who since his divorce from Kerry Kennedy, has not been seen as so close to the Camelot clan.

Then we can look at all the reasons that Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg now, apparently, optional) may not be ideal. For starters, she is much less well known in New York Democratic circles than either her late brother, John Jr., or her cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. As Judith Hope, the former state Democratic chair told me last week, “Recognizing her obvious qualities, I think Caroline is just an unknown quantity to many of us, and to the general public.” Her other hazards: She has scant professional experience outside of book writing and fundraising, has yet to demonstrate the workaholic grit of the seat’s current occupant, Hillary Clinton, and has shown herself at several occasions to be an underwhelming speaker. Finally, as Joe points out, we are entering an age of relative meritocracy and anti-dynasty, a trend that is only highlighted by the Blagojevich scandal.

None of this is to say that Caroline Kennedy would make a bad senator, or that her competition is not more deeply flawed. (Kennedy would certainly have an easier time raising money than some others.) But as we all take time to remember Camelot, to recall Caroline at her father’s funeral, the IRA bomb that almost killed her, and the admirable and altruistic life she has lived since then, we should also remember that this is not a binary choice for Paterson. He must first plan to deal with at least “nine enemies and one ingrate.”