Today we learned that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg has informed New York Gov. David Paterson that yes, she does want to sit in Sen. Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacated seat on Capitol Hill.
Before I get to the touching video clip featured in this post, let me post a hypothetical:
a) Suppose that Republican Bob Ehrlich had won re-election a couple of years ago and was still Governor of Maryland.
b) Suppose that President-elect Obama chose Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of that state for an important post – say, Ambassador to Poland, which, thanks to Russia’s recent aggressive postures, is now a highly significant world hotspot.
c) And suppose that Doro Bush Koch – the sister of our incumbent President and daughter of an ex-President, with a background in civic experience not too dissimilar from Ms. Schlossberg’s but with, also, no previous experience in elected office or anything corresponding to it – telephoned Gov. Ehrlich to let it be known she desired to be appointed to the vacant Senate seat.
d) And suppose, too, that one of her relatives – say, her nephew George P. Bush, Jeb’s son – was going around saying that if appointed Ms. Koch would run for a full term when it came time for an election, and that Maryland was going to be swamped with “more Bushes than you’ve ever seen in your life” campaigning for her.
Might the Washington Post – not to mention the New York Times – be up in arms, denouncing this latter-day manifestation of Divine Right? Might many of those on MoveOn.org’s email list be buying up the stock of half the DFW Shoe Warehouses in three states to greet Ms. Koch Baghdad-style at public appearances? Might tens of thousands of political bloggers be putting up all their posts in caps and underlined, to illustrate the grave danger to democracy?
To paraphrase what a cop once said to Bugs Bunny: They might, rrrabbit, they might.
That said, tonight Brian Williams on NBC News introduced a very old clip from a very obscure source – a Sunday-morning NBC show from 1957-58 called “Look Here,” hosted by the late Martin Agronsky (who later presided over the acclaimed and long-running Agronsky & Company on PBS, on which Elizabeth Drew, the subject of my post below, was a frequent panelist).
On the last Sunday of October 1957, the show’s guest was Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Agronsky noted that the birth of Kennedy’s first child (following a stillborn daughter the previous year) was imminent, and asked, in the fashion of the day, whether the senator planned a career in politics for the child – “if you have a son.”
Very remarkably for the time, JFK replied at once that even if his wife Jacqueline gave birth to a daughter, he hoped that “she would have a role to play – I don’t think it [a political career] should be confined to men only.” It should be remembered that at the time Kennedy expressed this sentiment, only one woman was in the Senate – Margaret Chase Smith of Maine – and that the number of female Representatives could be counted on the digits of both hands and feet – 17 in all, most of them elected only in the previous five years. (That number included Mary Farrington from what was then the territory of Hawaii.) No woman was the governor of any state in 1957, and there had been none since “Ma” Ferguson left office in Texas over 20 years before.
So for JFK to suggest a political career for his child if she turned out to be female was quite remarkable – though, it must be pointed out, the rest of his answer to the question used the male pronoun only. But nowhere in his answer does he suggest that, because such a child would be born into an ambitious family, his or her political experience should start at the top. JFK began his career at the House. His brother Robert, it’s true, had never held elective office before running for the Senate in 1964, but he had been involved in politics, by his brother’s side and as a Senate investigator, for almost 20 years. Even Ted Kennedy had several years’s worth of hands-on experience working in his brother Jack’s 1958 and 1960 campaigns before he was appointed to the Senate when he reached 30. Would there be half a chance that Ms. Schlossberg would consider getting a little bit of grassroots experience before she joined the upper chamber?
(And, before I forget, I should mention that this weekend I was forwarded an email from Ms. Emily Pudalov, an assistant to the Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority, who asks that I make it clear that last Saturday (despite what I noted in a previous post about the FM’s Eleanor Smeal seeming to lean toward an endorsement of Ms. Schlossberg), the organization reaffirmed its support of Rep. Carolyn Maloney to replace Sen. Clinton. Camelot, it appears, is not quite resurgent everywhere.)