Monday, December 22, 2008

Caroline and Sarah

Some conservatives are complaining about the difference in treatment that Caroline Kennedy is getting compared to Sarah Palin. Caroline announced that she wanted Hillary Clinton's senate seat and has been given a kid glove treatment. Compare that with Sarah Palin who had every aspect of her life examined.

I don't think that there is much to this comparison. Some people examining the pair have pointed out that different offices are involved. There is something to this but I don't think that this is the real reason for the difference. A bigger factor is the circumstances of

Palin was running for office and Kennedy is hoping to be appointed. More important, Obama supporters hoped that they could use Palin's background as an issue against McCain. Because of the zeal of the Obama supporters, nothing was out-of-bounds. Any rumor, no matter how preposterous, was treated as legitimate.

In contrast, Kennedy has no opponent, just a few rivals. There is no organized campaign doing opposition research nor are there crazed bloggers at Kos or Huffington who are ready to pounce on every rumor.

There is the issue of qualifications. Palin is better qualified by any measure (except an ideological one) since she has actually held elected office. Kennedy has made little public splash.

Now, many candidates for the Senate have little qualification. John Edwards comes to mind. Under normal circumstances the candidate has to convince the voters that this does not matter. It may be possible that the voters of New York would agree that having two uncles in the Senate (plus a father in the Senate and the White House) is enough. After all, they agreed that being married to a president qualifies you to be a senator. But the voters are not being asked.

That's where the real objection to Caroline comes in. She is asking to be admitted to the Senate on the basis of her family, not her own accomplishments. The voters might agree with this but they will not get a voice on the subject until 2010. In the meantime, a single politician gets to decide.

Political dynasties make me nervous. There are a lot of people who got a leg up in politics because of relatives. As with any hereditary system, the strengths of one generation do not always carry forward to the next. I can point to former Ohio governor Taft as an example.  Ten years ago when the office was open, there were two main candidates, Taft and Ken Blackwell. Both held elected office in Ohio - Taft was Secretary of State and Blackwell was Attorney General. Both had paid their dues. Further, people who actually knew Taft said that he was incompetent as Secretary of State (I know people who worked for Taft who confirmed this). But Taft got to be governor. How? The movers and shakers felt that they owed the Taft family.

That is the problem with Caroline. We don't know how competent she actually is and the people who are in a position to know might be willing to overlook her faults because of who her father was.

On the other hand, Sarah Palin rose on her own merits.

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