THE BLOG

Confidence in Caroline

01/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


If selected by Governor Paterson, Caroline Kennedy would make an excellent United States senator from the great state of New York. She has lived in New York since she was six years old, has contributed to public service for years, is the author of books on the Bill of Rights and the right to privacy--and is brilliant. She is, also, a mother who cares about the kind of country and world her children and grandchildren will inherit. The state of New York and the nation would be fortunate indeed to have Caroline serve in the US Senate.

The naysayers, who claim that she is not in touch with ordinary Americans and doesn't understand our problems, are the descendants of those who thought Columbus would fall off the edge of a flat world when he embarked on his westward voyage across the sea. In other words, they are mistaken. For example, during the nearly two months between the Ohio and Texas primaries and the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary, volunteers from across the US and countries from Sweden to Australia travelled to Pennsylvania to work alongside locals for the Obama campaign. Many came with their children during spring break in order to participate. I was volunteering in the main headquarters in Center City, Philadelphia--a large, open space on the top floor of a four-story building on Sansom Street, nine blocks from Independence Hall. The place was packed every day, a beehive of activity. One day, I came in and was looking for a chair. I walked to one side of the room where volunteers were making phone calls urging people to register, vote and volunteer. When I found a chair and pulled it to the table where I was working, the woman sitting next to me said, "Didn't you see Caroline Kennedy? She's here with two of her kids."

I had not only walked by Caroline without recognizing her, in my search for a chair I'd looked directly at her without realizing who she was. Why, because Caroline, her daughter, Tatiana, and her son, John, were sitting inconspicuously with all the other volunteers and working the phones. They fit in with the crowd, didn't ask for special treatment, didn't sit apart from the motley gathering of Obama supporters, but instead were one with us. They rolled their sleeves up (to borrow an Obama phrase) and worked hard. Yes, they were perfectly as ease with us--we "ordinary" people.

When Caroline was on her way out to buy coffee, she passed my table and I said softly, but with enough resonance for her to hear, "Caroline." She stopped and turned and we chatted for a few moments. I'd never met her before, but a dear friend of mine was a friend of Caroline's mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and I mentioned this to her. Also, I told her how her mother had inspired me. I head a historic trust and I explained to her how, when I was in elementary school, I was mesmerized by her mother's televised tour of the White House and her knowledge of the history of the place and its artifacts. Jackie's tour was my introduction to historic preservation and in my present work, I've often thought of her. I explained to Caroline that when I visited the exhibition of her mother's White House couture, I spent as much time reading Mrs. Kennedy's handwritten outline on yellow legal paper, of her plans for the White House restoration--in a glass case at the exhibition--as I did admiring the simple beauty of Jackie's sartorial style.

Caroline was gracious and more significantly, she expressed interest in my preservation work, a part of which we are doing in partnership with the Public Archaeology Facility of State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, although the historic site is across the border in upstate Pennsylvania.

Caroline Kennedy is living history. Politics is her family business and she has learned and absorbed it from a unique perspective. Imagine having Ted Kennedy, the most revered statesman of our time, as one's mentor-uncle, an incomparable font of knowledge and experience. Imagine a senator who seeks public office not for fame and fortune (which Caroline has had since birth), but because she wants to serve the public. Caroline wants to be a part of the solution to the challenges facing our country and the world right now. Read her books on the Bill and Rights and the right to privacy. She knows the Constitution and will work to uphold it.

Finally, to those pundits and political rivals of both parties who argue that she hasn't paid her dues, I say Caroline has more than paid her dues. Her father gave his life in service to this country. Anyone who doubts that she understand the rough and tumble arena of politics and the cost it exacts--doesn't know history--and greatly underestimates Caroline. She has been tested in ways that few of us can begin to imagine--and has prevailed. Those who would hold her background against her are disingenuous, envious perhaps, and fundamentally undemocratic.