THE BLOG
02/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

New Yorkers Saying No to Aristocracy As Sole Qualifier In a Democracy

As billionaire Republican Michael Bloomberg dispatches his thuggish aides to presumptuously berate Democratic Gov. David Paterson for daring to consider appointing anyone other than Caroline Kennedy to the New York Senate seat, a new poll shows New Yorkers are incredibly uncomfortable with the idea:

44% of the state's voters now say they have a lesser opinion of Kennedy than they did before she started vying for the position. 33% say it's made no difference, and 23% report now having a more favorable opinion of her. A plurality of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all say that her efforts have caused them to view her less favorably.

When it comes to whether they would prefer to see Kennedy or Andrew Cuomo appointed, 58% now prefer Cuomo to 27% for Kennedy. Cuomo is favored by 65% of Republicans, 59% of independents, and 54% of Democrats.

I know what you're thinking - Cuomo is a version of political aristocracy, right? Well, sure - but the point here is not that aristocracy is automatically horrible - it's not, and I never said it was. There are terrific leaders with ties to political aristocracy, from Ted Kennedy to Ned Lamont. The point here is that political aristocracy* ALONE should not be the sole or even most important determining factor in American politics - and most especially in appointments.

Kennedy has never run for office and hasn"t strongly delineated her positions on most issues. The most we really know about her is that she campaigned for Barack Obama and is the daughter of John F. Kennedy. By contrast, you can say what you will about Cuomo, but the guy has run in statewide elections, and won one, meaning he has clearly elucidated many public positions on key issues, and has had experience representing constituents.

Of course, IMHO, aristocracy shouldn't be the sole or even most important determining factor in elections either, but as evidenced by the electoral success of do-nothings like Evan Bayh, clearly it is. But at least in that case, the citizenry makes the choice. That's democracy, baby - you live by it and you die by it.

That's different than an appointment - which is, by definition, undemocratic. I would argue that in appointments, governors should actually prioritize putting people in office who have very deep experience representing as many of the people they will be representing in the new office as possible. Why? Because in a democracy, it seems appropriate to try to limit autocracy (ie. representation without election) as much as possible - even in an undemocratic process like an appointment, where one person gets to select the representative of millions of people. In that case, the way to mitigate the inherently undemocratic nature of the situation is for a governor to at least try to put someone in office who constituents have a prior representational relationship with. After all, the U.S. Senate may be the House of Lords, but officially, senators are still supposed to be representatives, no?

This is why I - and many other Coloradoans - are so incensed about Gov. Bill Ritter's selection of Michael Bennet to replace Ken Salazar (and most of the criticism deserves to be directed not at Bennet, but at Ritter for making the inexplicable selection). Bennet has barely lived in state for a decade**, hasn't ever run for or won elected office, and has no record - or even public positions - on most key issues before the U.S. Senate. Indeed, at the press conference announcing his appointment, Bennet smugly shrugged off questions about where he stands on the issues - as if that's less important than the fact that he's already launched a 2010 election campaign website. Evidently, getting elected to a seat he was given by virtue of his connections to the Beltway Establishment and Colorado corporate community is more important than telling us how he will cast his Senate votes in our name.

If even one of these factors weren't undeniably true, there might be some shred of meritocratic legitimacy to the Bennet appointment, even in the face of other far more qualified candidates. But there isn't - and the problem with that is obvious. To be "represented" in the Senate by someone like this - regardless of how he ends up voting as a Senator (and I sure hope he casts progressive votes) - isn't to really be "represented" at all, because Coloradoans have not only had no say in that representation, they have no idea what they are really being represented BY.

The forces of money and power in New York are trying to replicate what their counterparts engineered here in Colorado. And I'm guessing that what this new poll really shows is that New Yorkers have caught onto the shenanigans and are disgusted. That's not a surprise. New Yorkers - like most Americans - probably don't like the idea of someone getting to represent them who has never represented anyone in her life, and who would get the office almost solely on her last name. We may be a culture organized around celebrity, and at times that cultural organization seems intent on creating a quasi-royalty out of our congressional representatives, but perhaps there are limits to that kind of thing. Even as we celebritize the presidency and politicians, perhaps there are still certain lines that the mass public doesn't want crossed - the line separating hype-created quasi-royalty from actual, real hereditary royalty.

* Previously defined loosely as insider connections, ties to money/privilege, power derived from genetic lineage, etc

**By the way, I've only lived in state for about 2 years...but before you say its hypocrisy to question Bennet's tenure living here, remember: I'm not running for, or asking to be appointed to, the U.S. Senate to represent this state.