Maybe it's a generational thing, but upon first reflection, I was little moved by the idea of my home state governor, David Paterson, sending Caroline Kennedy to the Senate. As much as I admire Ted Kennedy's achievements, and am proud of New York's representation, once-upon-a-time, by Bobby, I simply saw little reason to reward Caroline, a political novice, with a seat that has the potential, but by no means the guarantee, of being deeply influential during the crucial first year of the Obama administration. Yes, Caroline has developed an expertise in public education issues as a philanthropist in New York City. And yes, as Joe Conason points out, Teddy was also written off as a legacy case when he first ran for office, and went on to become a liberal legislative giant. But something concerned me about Caroline: it was that she is politically untested, completely inexperienced in the policy-making process.
And yet, upon further consideration, I am tentatively ready to say that I think Caroline would be a good choice for the seat. The candidate of the feminist organizations, Carolyn Maloney, has worked on some important issues in Congress, including gay rights and the rights of rape victims. But she isn't known as a wonk or a quick study, and in a year when progressive policy opportunities abound, seriousness will be rewarded. Kennedy, on the other hand, though completely new to legislation, will be surrounded by the highest-caliber staff members and enjoy a direct line to the president, to whom she awarded a crucial mid-primary endorsement. And though most of Kennedy's books have been treacly souvenirs to her tragic family history, she has, with co-author Ellen Alderman, written two books on questions of constitutional law that are critical to liberalism, The Right to Privacy and In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action.
What remains a concern is that by appointing a celebrity like Kennedy to the seat, Paterson will be in large part ensuring a pathway to reelection in a heavily Democratic state. Kennedy is young, and with Chuck Schumer firmly enmeshed in New York's other Senate seat, the path forward for politicians such as Nydia Velazquez and Kirstin Gillibrand won't be clear. But the primary concern should be appointing the most effective and smartest senator right now. Caroline Kennedy just might be that person.