Caroline Kennedy dropped her bid for Hillary Clinton's seat for a good reason. New York Governor David Paterson would not have picked her for the seat anyway. Kennedy found out the brutal fact of political life and that is that politics is not only a dirty business but it's a business for politicians. They've seen to that. The instant that Kennedy lightly hinted that she was interested in the seat she got hammered from all sides. She was called an inexperienced part time education consultant; an Obama shoulder rubber; a Park Avenue dilettante, and the favorite of all knocks, that her senate bid was nothing more than a crass and naked grab to cash in her JFK blood tie and Kennedy family name. Then there was the inevitable dirt digging. It was quickly revealed that she hadn't voted in recent elections, fumbled and bumbled answers to puffball policy questions, and came off looking and sounding vague and aloof in a mostly photo-op listening tour outside NYC.
No matter who attacked or where the attack came from, the point in the attacks was that she was a political novice using her famed name to leap over a pack of far more worthy, seasoned, and political dues paying elected officials to get the seat. None of the other presumed more deserving candidates would need OJT in the senate seat. But Kennedy would.
The attacks, rightly or wrongly, hit home and before the damning revelations about Kennedy's non-voting record and seemingly being ill-informed on the issues, Kennedy sought help. Unfortunately, the person she sought it from was grist for the mill for her detractors. That was none other than the Reverend Al Sharpton who strolled arm in arm with her out of a Harlem restaurant. Though Sharpton didn't actually endorse Kennedy it still brought a fresh volley of criticism of Kennedy for picking Sharpton to give her the needed political luster.
The personal thumps on Sharpton were little more than the standard anti-Sharpton name calling stuff. But they did just enough to call Kennedy's motive into question, and further fuel suspicions that she was just latching onto names, any names, to burnish her credential as a serious candidate.
The truth is whether it was Sharpton, Obama, or any one of the other luminaries that Kennedy sought to tie her candidate string to, the result would have been the same. She was still indelibly tagged as a media-created political novice who would be hopelessly lost trying to navigate around and through the byzantine ways of the world's most exclusive club and that's the U.S. Senate.
The world that Senators operate in is self-protective, clubby and chummy, totally dependent on special interest money and dominated by labor and business interests. As the consummate political insiders, they spend most of their time talking, consulting and socializing with their cronies. This bolsters their self-designated role as the experts and arbiters of the inner craft of American politics. Their invisibility and the absence of accountability bestows a fiat on them to brandish power anyway they see fit.
They jealously hoard what they view as their sacred right to make all final decisions on proposing laws and supporting public policy issues they deem important. Their all-consuming obsession is to retain their seats, freeze out or marginalize candidates who do not kiss labor and business and the political establishment's ring and who may bring fresh ideas and political energies to the campaign.
Kennedy may or may not have been that candidate. The jury was still way out on whether she could actually be the fresh voice to shout new ideas and approaches to legislation to her Senate chums. But even if she were, the likelihood is that they wouldn't listen anyway. Freshmen senators have no standing and rarely get any legislation passed, or even considered. That was the knock against Obama. That he got almost no meaningful legislation through the Senate that bore his name on it.
Kennedy in the end simply did not kiss the obligatory rings of the political and financial deal makers, spell out to voters what her vision and program is, and how she'd arm twist Congress and the Obama administration to help New York dig out of its crushing revenue shortfall. Sharpton and the other lights that she sought out to back her couldn't help her there. She was on her own. That was the true test of whether her senate talk was just a whimsical fling, or if she really wanted it and has the right stuff to handle the job.
She failed miserably on every count. A bruised Kennedy did the right, in fact in truth, the only thing that she could do when her head bumped against the realities of political life, she dropped out before she was dumped.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).