okay, here is my take on Caroline Kennedy. (Be patient, after flying back to New York to do CBS for the inauguration, I am back in Russia on my speaking tour. This time in Yekaterinburg, so no access to my books to facts check. Will be home Monday.)
First, I don’t think she is finished. There may indeed be some personal, financial disqualifier, that is the speculation, but it is also possible that she has simply withdrawn from consideration for the Senate seat. And wisely so. This delicate dance reminds me of Robert Todd Lincoln. another child of a beloved president who was assassinated. He made a similar on again, off again entrance to public life. It was always assumed that he could be president if he ever got into politics… sort of like JFK, Jr. For years, young Mr. Lincoln was a looming presence on the political scene but he was wise enough not to try it. He would test the waters and back off when greeted by the kind of reaction that Caroline Kennedy just got. If you look up one of my old blogs you will read how no less than Joseph Pulitzer, himself, railed against the idea of Lincoln getting elected to something on the basis of his father’s record.
Having said that, Lincoln finally found his place and I think CK will too.
The country likes its politicians to be humbled. Most lose early elections before they are finally voted in, the public feeling that they have had the pride knocked out of them enough to be trusted. Bush one and two both lost their first elections. Abe Lincoln was a frequent loser and there are many others. In 1988 Bill Clinton was practically booed off the floor of the DNC and delegates went to sleep as he spoke, but four years later they nominated him for president.
In my interviews with presidential children, they were unanimous in rejecting public life. All of them had tasted it. All of them knew that they could have it again. Television and print media were always calling. They could use the opportunities for good, for causes which they believe to be helpful. But all of them rejected public life as too painful and intrusive. So my take is this; Caroline Kennedy “got in,” when she endorsed Barack Obama. That was her coming out party. And she did not make her decision casually. She made it with great calcualtion and consideration. The Obama endorsement was far riskier and more likely to provoke a firestorm than a bid for the vacant Senate seat. So I think that she is in this for the long haul. And you can say that this Senate try was her defeat, that is, others have now bested her in the polls and she has gracefully backed out of it, and the public feels that they have had their blood. So why should she quit now? What a waste? Having been baptized by fire, she is now more likely to be accepted.
I mentioned Robert Todd Lincoln, well he served as Secretary of War and aquitted himself quite well but his best performance of all was as Ambassador to the Court of St. James. And THAT is where I think Caroline Kennedy should go.
It is the one post where all her negatives become positive. The British understand royalty and love it. She would join a long list of presidential children who have served in that post. The British public would follow her every move and accept her. Afterall, her grandfather was the Ambassador. She would have the class and dignity for the position and could easily raise the money to do the job right. Yes, she would have to “eh, uh, you know,” make speeches. But she would have speechwriters. She is so gracious and lovely. In the past she never traded on her name except for philanthropy. In some ways she is an American institution. Who else could represent us better? She could very well be another Lady Diana. The French, of course, remembering her mother, would love her too.
So my take is this… President Barack Obama needs to do something for her. Doing nothing would be a pretty arrogant response to the political risks she took for him. And of course, he will do something. And the Court of St. James or Ambassador to France is the best fit. We have been down this road before. There is a reason why so many presidents’ kids have had these positions. It is a good fit. The Brits and the French both like pedigree. Both president John Adams and his son, John Quincy had this post. And one of John Quincy’s grandsons served there as well. (Or was it his son?)
There is one more thing. Like so many others in the same position. Caroline was not the “annointed” child. That would be JFK, Jr. Shortly before her death, Jackie wrote him a letter saying, “You especially have a place in history.” Sounds like Augustine Washington, whose hopes were on firstborn, Lawrence, and who ignored young George, who didn’t even get an education. It is the story of old man Eisenhower, who was counting on the young family star, Milton. Or Joe Kennedy looking to Joe, Jr. Or mom and pop Bush looking to son Jeb. Caroline is the unexpected sibling who again and again throughout history, steps from the shadows to surprise the ambitous parent who is focused on another.
BTW, this is a Biblical parable. Samuel the prophet meets all of Jesse’s sons, thinking that he will annoint one as a new King. Finally in exasperation and confusion he says, “Is this all?”
Jesse says, “Yep, that’s it.” (Pause.) Oh! Yeah, well, there is David, the young un. But he’s out with the sheep.”
“Go get him,” Samuel says.
So there is something terrible and wonderful going on here and it is nothing new. Too many of OUr “annointed” sons die young… Lawrenece Washington died soon after his father. JOe Kennedy was gone too quickly. JFK, Jr. was gone shortly after his mother, who had written to him that “you, too, have a place in history.”
After the 1988 election, I asked Marvin Bush if any of his generation had an interest in politics. “Well,” he said, “We think that Jeb is going to do something.”
“What about George?” I asked.
“George?” he said. “George is the family clown.”
When that reporter recently asked Caroline Kennedy what her brother would think of her bid to be a Senator, she said, “He would laugh his head off.” Sounds familiar.
My take? This story is not over.