Forget the $16 trillion national debt. Forget what we owe China. The greatest unpaid debt of Barack Obama, one of the greatest unpaid political debts of all time, is what the president owes Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter to John F. Kennedy.
Every day that passes with this debt unpaid, is an uncomfortable day for Barack Obama. For it is an object lesson to any future supporter. If a president can stiff Caroline Kennedy, he can stiff anybody.
It was Caroline Kennedy who made supporting Barack Obama fashionable. Her endorsement, which came on January 27, 2008 gave his candidacy the credibility and legitimacy it was lacking. It came at a time when Hillary Clinton was poised to nail down the Democrat nomination for president. As Kennedy’s father said after the Bay of Pigs disaster, “Failure is an orphan, but victory has a thousand fathers.” There are many who claim that they elected Barack Obama but no one has a greater claim than Caroline Kennedy.
For much of her life, Caroline Kennedy lived in mystery. While others sought fame she sought anonymity and privacy. In the process she became even more popular. She was a blank slate that others could write upon. And she was never lured into public to disabuse them of their notions. She sacrificed all of that in January, 2008, when she wrote her endorsement of Barack Obama.
The candidate appeared to honor that support the following December. A deal was arranged to have Mrs. Kennedy appointed to the vacated New York Senate seat. Caroline was trotted out onto television to talk about it. Her appearances were disastrous, making Sarah Palin cerebral by comparison. In only a matter of minutes, a woman whose dignity and mystery gave her a persona that transcended her White House childhood, was reduced from legendary to ordinary.
The Obama team bristled at the suggestion that they had not prepared her. She was a Kennedy, they said, the family practically invented modern politics. She had failed her audition at the New York Times. She had offended Governor Patterson, the man who would have to appoint her. It was her fault, not theirs.
A few months later Barack Obama tried again. The White House started floating Caroline Kennedy’s name as a possible ambassador to the Vatican. It was such a glaring political misjudgment that some now question the sincerity of the effort. Kennedy friend, Ray Flynn, the former Democrat mayor of Boston and the last Ambassador to the Vatican was aghast. Mrs. Kennedy ‘s pro abortion position would not fly in Rome, he warned, what were they thinking? Predictably the Church rebuffed her nomination.
This time, it was clear that the Obama White House had let her down. It is one thing to ignore a political debt. It is another to punish someone who has done you a great service.
In March, 2011, Obama finally appointed Mrs. Kennedy’s husband, Edwin Schlossberg, to the president’s commission on fine arts. It made eyes roll. It is one of thousands of honorific positions the White House passes out to lower level supporters and their friends. A third year into a presidency these positions are the scraps that have fallen to the floor and are often turned down.
Caroline Kennedy would not be the first presidential child to go unthanked for helping elect a president. Robert Tyler, son and personal assistant to his father, President John Tyler, left the White House to become prominent in Pennsylvania politics. Eventually Tyler befriended James Buchanan and encouraged him and coached him in his long career. During Buchanan’s’ run for office, Tyler was at this side, giving him a perspective that no one else could offer. But when Buchanan became president he promptly dropped Tyler. There is only one president and any other light that shines too brightly will not be tolerated. Tyler, like Mrs. Kennedy, never complained.
The perfect position for Caroline Kennedy, the obvious position, is the Court of St. James, that is ambassador to Great Britain. It is the position held by her grandfather and her uncle. It is a position that honors tradition and royalty. But Mrs. Kennedy, who wrote in her endorsement that Obama reminded her of her father, has obviously misjudged her man.
“And when it comes to judgment,” Mrs. Kennedy wrote, “Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.”
Like much of her endorsement of Obama, it is all now only ironic. Obama has been a war president, making Republican and Democrat foreign policy virtually indistinguishable from the other. There is no New Deal, or Great Frontier. There is only old Republican style cronyism. Students must pay back their education loans at 8% interest, while members of the Federal Reserve Board can award themselves billions in interest free loans to prop up their banks.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.