The Senator from People Magazine?

Caroline Kennedy seems to have emerged as the favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate. It is up to Gov. David Patterson to name Clinton’s successor, but he is likely to take his cues from the Democratic political establishment, key elements of which apparently are lining up behind Kennedy or seriously considering this course. Kennedy’s connection with Barack Obama — she endorsed him and he would like to wrap himself in the “Camelot” myth — clearly won’t hurt either. Indeed, the momentum in Kennedy’s favor has become sufficient to leave Andrew Cuomo, who also covets the seat, “fuming.”

But is Kennedy qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate? She thinks so. Campaigning (I can’t think of any other way to describe it) in Rochester, she boasted, “I have a lifelong devotion to public service; I’ve written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation; and I’ve raised my family.”

I suppose I have a crabbed view of “qualification,” having never thought that Sarah Palin’s caribou killing or hockey momming counted, but consider me unimpressed. Writing a serious, scholarly book about the Constitution would be an impressive accomplishment, though not necessarily a qualification for the Senate. However, it’s far from clear that Kennedy’s books (“co-written” with Ellen Alderman) rise to that level. The New York Times found one of them, “The Right to Privacy,” largely devoid of analysis. Reading this work, according to the Times, “is like shuffling a clipping file.”

Similarly, the first book she and Alderman turned out, “In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action,” apparently is built around interviews with parties in contemporary Bill of Rights Supreme Court cases — constitutional law for the People Magazine era, perhaps. The book may be a good read, but it doesn’t sound like a contribution to constitutional scholarship or a meaningful credential for the U.S. Senate.

The New York delegation to Congress contains approximately two dozen Democratic members. You would think that someone in that delegation is fit to serve in the Senate and capable of holding the seat in this heavily Democratic state. Even Andrew Cuomo would probably be preferable to Kennedy. He too owes everything to his family name, but at least he parlayed it into relevant experience in public affairs.

The Democratic party’s flirtation with Caroline Kennedy represents the continuation of its fixation on celebrity and glitz. The Dems better hope that our current economic ills don’t last too long. Celebrity, glitz, and, above all, “royalty” probably won’t play well politically during hard times.

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