As you probably know, if (or when) Hillary Clinton’s nomination as President-Elect Obama’s Secretary of State is confirmed, a vacant seat in the US Senate will be up for grabs. Fortunately (or not so fortunately if you’re friends with Blago), the seat is not for sale. But it is likely to get handed over to a person for reasons beyond their qualifications.
As of now, the front-runner for the seat is a Kennedy.
Before I go into my rant, let me first preface by saying that I actually like Caroline Kennedy. And when we compare her to the joke of a VP candidate the Republicans put up this year, it can be said that – by comparison -Kennedy is emminently more qualified. Even though she has never served as an elected official, she certainly has the intellectual curiosity, the motivation, and the passion necessary to serve in a public position. But is that enough to leap frog her into the U.S. Senate over more experienced candidates?
The ultimate qualm that I have with the consideration of Caroline Kennedy is that it represents more of the same in terms of the political legacies to which we have become subjected. I especially get annoyed when people who cite Affirmative Action as being an unjust system of selection who will then find no problem with allowing legacy to dictate selection.
On the one hand, I should point out that legacies carry with them certain benefits. In academia for example, alumni are more likely to support a college or university if their children also attend. Thus the “legacy points” afforded to those students during the admission process are justifed. Most institutions who rely heavily on alumni support find themselves in the unenviable position of being strong-armed into admitting alum children. Besides – as the university would argue – continuing certain legacies is central to preserving the culture and the environment of the institution. Its for this reason that during the University of Michigan’s Affirmative Action case, race based selection – not legacy – was called into question.
Politics is no different. When all is said and done, people from affluent and well connected families get the nod, while those equally (or more) qualifed are casually dismissed. All this does is cement the unfortunate reality of race and class preservation (most of the beneficiaries of legacy are white, upper class folks). I’m trying to think optimistically about Caroline Kennedy. But ultimately, I can’t help but see her as another example of how class and last names give an upperhand to people who may not otherwise possess the qualifications. I hope I’m wrong about Kennedy. But I doubt it.
In an ironic twist, New York governor David Patterson (also a legacy beneficiary) will be making the final decision.
I’m not a fan of political dynasties, because I think they perpetuate a certain type of privilege and a set of values and beliefs that are already in place. Kennedy may prove me wrong and I hope she does. But I find it disconcerting the message it sends to those of us without family connections and without the right family name, who also deeply care about the political climate in this country.