Thursday, January 22, 2009


Not-So-Sweet Caroline

Sen. Ted Kennedy has the health problems -- and had to be whisked away from President Obama's Inaugural luncheon Tuesday. Bednesday evening demonstrated that it's the fabled Kennedy dynasty that is actually in collapse.

Caroline Kennedy, Ted's niece and daughter of the former president, withdrew her name from consideration as the appointed successor to Hillary Clinton as New York's junior senator. This is nothing but a shock to the state's political class.

(Clearly, the Empire State got upset by all the attention Illinois was getting in having a dysfunction process in filling a vacant Senate seat.) She had been long-considered Gov. David Paterson's likely pick. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was strongly pushing for her, with his top aide having been working behind the scenes trying to push support. President Obama -- who Ted and Caroline endorsed right after his loss in the New Hampshire primary, giving his campaign an essential boost when it needed -- was said to be in her corner. Paterson himself made it clear he wanted someone with both name background and the ability to raise enough money to run consecutive elections (the appointee would have to run in 2010 to finish Clinton's unexpired term and then for a full term in 2012).

But one major cloud hung over the process -- the elephant in the room: Kennedy wasn't a good candidate. A media rollout in December was nothing short of a disaster. Far from displaying the trademark Kennedy eloquence and charisma, Caroline's pre-New Year's interviews were punctuated with "ums" and "you knows." She irritated a city and state dominated by Democrats by equivocating on whether she would support the Democratic candidate for mayor later this year. She thus looked like she was in the tank for her friend and quasi-mentor, independent Mayor Bloomberg. She hadn't even voted in several recent elections.

No wonder recent polls indicated a clear public mood shift away from Caroline toward yet another dynastic choice -- Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Yet while Kennedy's Senate withdrawal is somewhat shocking -- it shouldn't really be that much of a surprise. If anything she is rather symbolic of the current Kennedy clan. The name is not what it once was. Arguably, the Bush family may have eclipsed the Kennedys as the "First of First Families" -- having elected two presidents and a possible third in waiting (ex-Florida Gov. Jeb (who recently decided not to run for the Senate in 2010).

Caroline's cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had a disastrous run for Maryland governor in 2002 -- losing the office to a Republican in a state where the GOP hadn't been victorious in 20 years. The only member of the younger generation to have much electoral success in recent years is Teddy's son, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

The fact that the new front-runner for the seat previously inhabited by the wife of former President Bill Clinton may be Andrew Cuomo -- son of former Gov. Mario -- shows that dynastic politics isn't completely dead yet. However, Caroline's stepping aside says that one particular dynsasty is running on fumes.

As mentioned a month ago, perhaps a trip overseas might be a good face-saving move?


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