Is Caroline Kennedy Qualified To Be A United States Senator?

Apparently, 52% of Americans think so. They are, of course, correct. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says: “No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” Ms. Kennedy is over the age of 30 years, has been a citizen of the United States for her entire life (or so she claims) and she is presently an inhabitant of the State of New York. Thus, she is qualified for the job.

The question is whether she has adequate experience and abilities to do the job of serving in the highest legislative body in the land. The linked article contains some blather about how men look at a candidate’s resume and women look at a candidate’s life experiences. Yeah, yeah. I guess I’m guilty of being “male,” then, in that I’d be looking for something more than “attorney” as a qualifier for high office and I discount that to a large degree because I know what it means to be an attorney.

The practice of law is a fine starting-off point for a political career, but litigation is not the same thing as legislating. There’s more deliberation and compromising; when you have a disagreement that can’t be resolved in a lawsuit, you always have the option of trying the case or asking the judge, but the mechanisms for resolving irreconcilable disputes in a legislative body are very different. I’d be happier with her if she had taken a few steps along the cursus honorum other politicians often do first — serving some time in the House of Representatives, or in the New York state legislature, or being the mayor of her home town, for instance. It would feel more like she’s earned the office instead of simply taking the seat because it once was held by her dead uncle.

I was told that on the George Stephanopholous show this weekend, a bunch of moderate liberal journalists — the second-stringers for that show while the heavy hitters are enjoying holiday vacations — sat around the whole time and agreed with one another about what a good pick Kennedy would be and how she’s exciting Democrats the way Sarah Palin excited Republicans. I think the comparison between Caroline Kennedy and Sarah Palin is unfair — to Palin. Gov. Palin has at least been elected to a significant public office. Ms. Kennedy is exciting apparently for little other reason than her lineage — maybe she gives a decent speech, but surely there are other intelligent, articulate Democrats in New York than she who can give a speech and look good on camera. I still don’t know what she’s bringing to the table.

As I wrote a few days ago, a lengthy political pedigree should be a negative — not a disqualifier, but a negative — when considering a candidate for high elective office in a republican democracy such as ours. We have rejected the concept of an aristocracy, and annointing a presumptive aristocrat for no other reason than her aristocratic background is somewhat offensive. I was going to rejoice about the incoming Obama Administration that for the first time in my adult life, there would be a White House without any Bushes or Clintons in it — until I remembered who Obama picked to be his Secretary of State.

But the thing of it is, it’s David Paterson’s choice. Paterson is a caretaker Governor who really owes no favors to anyone. He can go along with the prevailing wisdom that it’s Kennedy or no one, or he can pick someone (well, a Democrat) from clear out of the blue and see what happens. I’d kind of like to see that happen, to 1) throw a monkey wrench into things, and 2) to strike a blow against aristocracy in America.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

One Comment

  1. “I was told that on the George Stephanopholous show this weekend, a bunch of moderate liberal journalists . . .”Tennesseans, remember he’s a SoCal conservative.

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