I've been sadly amused today watching the cable news bloviators discuss whether Caroline Kennedy is "qualified" to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the U.S. Senate and, frankly, the whole debate shows how disconnected and self-absorbed the pretentious inside-the-Beltway crowd is about who they wish to admit into their society.
So, allow me to be brutally honest about this Congressional qualifications stuff, for whatever my opinion is worth.
Without a doubt, we would all be much better served if all 535 Senators and Representatives were the smartest, most insightful, courageous, selfless people we could find. That would be ideal. But the truth is they aren't. Not even close. And having spent more than a decade around these people -- there's nothing so difficult about the job Representative or Senator that someone as impressive as Caroline Kennedy couldn't master in short order, if not on Day 1.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying anyone is suited to serve in Congress. The job is demanding, it takes a particular skill set to master things like debate, public speaking, digesting information and analyses, campaigning, and asking strangers for money. And the work they do is of critical importance.
But I find it insulting and annoying that these political and media blowhards even think for a moment that the job is so complicated and technically difficult that a Caroline Kennedy might be out-of-her league if appointed. It's such utter nonsense that I find myself annoyed by it all.
The truth is, the real hard part of Congress is done by the staffers and career people. They do the tough work. They do the numbers crunching, the public policy analysis, the writing of crucial and complicated legislation, the constituent outreach and case work. That's the hard part. Serving as a member of Congress is not like being a governor of a state or, obviously, President of the United States. Those are hard jobs where the elected official is largely responsible for running an actual government on his/her own. (Side note: the effort by some to compare her to Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) is equally misplaced. Palin was running to be the possible next president [i.e., the hardest job of all], not one of 100 senators.).
I have had the honor of working with and getting to know some incredibly talented and brilliant people who serve in the House or Senate. My political career was built on the lessons learned from spending years with people like Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY). But we should not confuse the fact that while there are many brilliant people in Congress, who bring a distinct skill set, the job itself doesn't require a Ph.D. to master. There are, unfortunately, more than a handful of especially unimpressive members of Congress who demonstrate daily that you can get by with limited skills, if not thrive.
After all, we are talking about a Congress that sent us into a war that cost us more than 4,000 American military lives and about a trillion dollars, even though no weapons of mass destruction existed. That same Congress can't balance a budget, stand-up to an abysmally unpopular president who happily skirted the boundaries of lawfulness for many years, and who seem wholly incapable of making tough and courageous decisions that the American public expects of them.
Nevertheless, despite the remarkable life that Caroline Kennedy has lived...despite her Harvard undergraduate degree and Columbia Law School degree...despite her being an attorney, an editor, and a published author...despite that our next president trusted her to co-lead his search for a vice president...despite coming from one of the greatest families ever to serve in the United States Congress... we have to sit and listen to members of this Beltway fraternity (and sorority) bluster that she might not be qualified to become 1 of 100 in the Senate. Seriously?
The pundits spew a great deal of nonsense on any given day. But this one might actually take the cake. And if I didn't know better, I might think there was a bit of misogyny wrapped-up in the analysis. Not only do I not recall the same criticism being leveled at the idea that her cousin -- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. -- might seek the appointment, or someday run for the job -- but I sort of recall some of the same arguments made about Hillary Clinton's own run for this seat eight years ago.
Finally, I'm not saying that experience doesn't matter. Clearly, it does. We want the best experience we can get in a candidate for any public office, and Kennedy would have to defend hers in a 2010 special election. That is a legitimate question for her opponent to raise. But when it comes to filling a Senate vacancy in New York, I find this whole discussion more than nauseating, especially considering the sources.