Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sweet Caroline

I don’t have an opinion on Caroline Kennedy as a person, a thinker, a political figure or a New Yorker. I simply don’t know her – and in that regard, I’m like pretty much everybody else, thanks to the deliberate way she has shielded her life from the world’s view. I certainly couldn’t care less that she isn’t a smooth, confident public speaker, or that she punctuates every phrase with “you know.”

I am, however, developing sympathy for her as a pawn. To be sure, she walked into the current shitstorm over her “candidacy” (or whatever it is) to fill Hillary’s soon-to-be-vacated New York Senate seat with her eyes open. She’s a responsible adult. But she’s also schlepping around more myth and history and family legacy than just about anybody else alive, and it seems as though that’s being wielded against her by the dying patriarch of American political royalty in ways that are manipulative and cruel. One thinks of the Marion Davies character in Citizen Kane.

The whole foofarah has been, not surprisingly, catnip for commentariat gossip during the interregnum (even more than Blagogate, though perhaps a tad less than Warrengate). God forbid the lions of the Village should talk about policy, or the global economic crisis. And by all means, we must keep Favreaugate off the front pages. I mean, the boy mustn’t be distracted – he has to write the most importantest speech ever. (N.B., It’s been nearly four weeks now, and still no word from our Vote-Present-Elect.)

But putting the pundits’ blatherings aside, what are we to make of this odd, asymmetrical drama surrounding Caroline? To me, the key question is the issue of her motivation. Here is someone who has assiduously avoided public visibility for her entire life. It was worth a lot to her to avoid it -- taking a $1 salary in order not to provide financial disclosure. Despite being born into American royalty and then into a fairy-tale narrative of beauty and hope and loss, she deliberately and consistently refused to play the part assigned to her. And now, all of a sudden, she's throwing her hat into the ring?

Isn’t it obvious that there’s something wrong with this picture? That something else is going on? And is it either a surprise or at all inappropriate for reporters to probe that? Although some have criticized the Times’ reporters for pressing her to describe her “moment of decision," aren’t they, in fact, acting out of a reasonable skepticism that such a moment actually occurred? Doesn’t it, in fact, seem probable that she is being pushed into this by Uncle Teddy? As new information comes to light, it looks more and more as though Caroline’s own motives, passions, interests and ideas are the farthest things from some people’s consideration.

Members of my generation felt heartbroken and protective of her from the moment of that iconic scene at her father’s funeral. And then she lost her uncle. Now, she’s about to lose her other uncle. None of these powerful men has ever given much evidence of interest or concern about women’s or girls’ feelings, or identity.

If she is the prime mover here, and is serious about it, then she's both arrogant and doing a lousy job of promoting herself. But to my eye, the whole spectacle is most dispiriting in the way Caroline Kennedy is being used, rather than in how she is using.

4 comments:

egalia said...

You could be right, though I tend to think she is simply following the womanly tradition of looking around for something new and challenging to do once the kids are grown.

Derek said...

I tend to think that New Yorkers want at least one of their U.S. senators to be some sort of star, whether from the intelligentsia (Moynihan), media (James Buckley, by relation), or politics (Bobby Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Martin van Buren...). I'm ambivalent about Caroline Kennedy myself. But Chuck Schumer is effective; he isn't, at the same time, interesting, and New Yorkers need at least one interesting senator representing them, otherwise what makes our delegation any different than Pennsylvania's or Michigan's?

Personally, I'm glad to hear that Paterson also interviewed Danny O'Donnell for that seat. He's a long shot, but he'd certainly be interesting!

Falstaff said...

Re O'Donnell -- definitely. Re Caroline... I'm not sure how interesting she really is, or what it would be like for her to have to BE "interesting" -- in the way her mythos would most likely require, once she's consistently in the spotlight.

Another possibility, which nobody seems to be contemplating, would be for one of the current crop of contenders -- or, for that matter, Liza or Jerry or David Byrne or Harvey Fierstein or Marty Markowitz or Dr. Ruth or some other 'colorful' New Yawker -- to take the job for just the two years, with no intention of running in 2010 (a la what's happening in Delaware). Keep the seat warm. Give the folks from Upstate a chance to establish their star power.

Where's Officer Joe Bolton when you need him...?

G. said...

I agree, this is not Caroline's desire or doing. She doesn't like meeting the public, or the press. Does she have policy positions? Is she equipped to argue for them? Does she have the stomach to deal with arm-twisting politicians?

Derek, New Yorkers don't need stars, but if we wanted a celebrity, Harriet Christian is a natural.