It’s official – Caroline Kennedy says she wants to be a U.S. senator. Specifically, she wants to be appointed to the seat that Hillary Clinton will vacate when Hillary becomes Secretary of State. To be sure, Caroline is indeed the “princess of Camelot.” But moments after announcing she was interested in the job, the question arose: is she qualified?

Qualification to serve in the U.S. government has become the watchword these days for anyone seeking elective or, in this instance, appointive office. As Kathleen Parker noted in The Washington Post, “It almost goes without saying that no one would pay Kennedy any attention were she not the beneficiary of a famous name – and the daughter of a martyred president.”

But then one could ask legitimately: was George W. Bush qualified to be president? And what about Sarah Palin, or Ralph Nader? Or Jesse Ventura and Sonny Bono? But these candidates were running for public office, not seeking to be assigned or invested with the position. At the same time, there is a growing concern about the establishment of political dynasties in this country, people who “parachute into Congress seemingly out of nowhere,” to use Charles Krauthammer’s phrase.

Read a typical batch of “letters to the editor” in recent days, and you will discern some outright hostility toward such parachutists. In the case of Caroline, we are left without much to go on concerning her position on key issues. The web network news source Politico recently submitted a list of eight questions to Kennedy, seven of which she answered. A case in point: when asked whether she would support an airstrike by Israel against Iran, her reply was “Israel’s security decisions should be left to Israel.” Her responses to the issues of same-sex marriage, raising taxes in New York state, and her position on the war in Iraq were also unclear. For someone who has been a celebrity since her birth 51 years ago, Caroline Kennedy has revealed little so far about her personality or her politics. A professor at Baruch College in New York said, “I could have had my undergraduate students write those responses.”

Judith Warner, a writer for the New York Times, went so far as to say America’s current economic crisis has been the result of its history of nepotism. While admitting that Caroline Kennedy was “very capable,” Warner has a problem with Kennedy’s sense of entitlement because of her family name and the public perception that she may be the last of the Kennedy dynasty. If Caroline truly has an abiding interest in politics, she should run for the New York senate seat in 2010.

The foreign press also wonders if Caroline Kennedy is following in the footsteps of the woman she is hoping to replace, trading on name recognition and family connections. Writing in The Guardian, the British Washington correspondent Suzanna Goldenberg questioned whether the current Kennedy phenomenon was “an example of Park Avenue privilege claiming what it saw as its due?” When asked to list her qualification to be a U.S. senator, Kennedy told reporters in Buffalo that she has worked for the public school system, written books on the constitution, and raised raised three children.

Yet despite these question marks, and early challenges to her experience, Caroline Kennedy seems destined to be the next U.S. senator from New York state. The man who would appoint her, New York governor David Paterson, has clearly indicated his admiration and support for Kennedy. She campaigned vigorously for Barack Obama, saying at one point Obama reminded her of her father, so now the president-elect is in her corner. The lesson here: if you can, trade entirely on pedigree. Then later, if you can, earn the title of United States Senator.


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