Let's see now, Caroline Kennedy is a graduate of Columbia Law School, she has been deeply involved with and committed to public education in New York City, raising millions of dollars for the city's public schools, she has co-authored two outstanding and readable books on the Bill of Rights and the Right to Privacy, she has edited several volumes of poetry, she married a New Yorker, and she has raised her daughters and son right here in New York City. She is also an inspiring woman of whom both her legendary parents would be justifiably proud. She is a role model, not just for young women but for all young people who, born to even a modicum of privilege, seek to forge an independent, productive and constructive identity for themselves.
She is also the symbol of what is best in politics. More than any other child in American history, her smiling face alongside her father in the White House reminds us not so much of a mythical Camelot, but of the hope that was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and then again on June 6, 1968. Her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, kept this hope alive for the past 40 years, and now the Kennedy torch may truly be passed to a new generation.
Caroline Kennedy has formally expressed her interest in succeeding Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate seat once held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, but rather than applauding her for her accomplishments, her potential, and her willingness to serve, she is being attacked as somehow unqualified and less capable than a host of professional politicians known primarily to the voters of their electoral districts.
New York has been well-served by a succession of well-known, well-connected "celebrity" Senators who used their prestige to benefit their State and their constituents. Robert Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Hillary Clinton are three prominent examples. Caroline Kennedy would bring to Washington not just star power but a fresh, untarnished personality and a sharp unconventional intellect.
This is not to say that other possible candidates are any less qualified or capable. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. would make excellent senators, but then again, Congresswoman Nita Lowey would probably have been an outstanding Democratic candidate for Senator in 2000, but for the emergence of Hillary Clinton as an even more viable and credible political superstar.
Representative Anthony Weiner has criticized Caroline Kennedy for not having demonstrated a proclivity for simulating a superficial enthusiasm for agricultural photo-ops. I'm not kidding. "I do think you have to not only be willing to be milking cows at the state fair, but you've got to like it or at least be very good at acting like you like it," Mr. Weiner observed. "If she has the gift of milking cows, it's been utterly hidden from people of the state of New York." What about caring about and working on behalf of hundreds of thousands of public school students? Doesn't that count? And when has faking interest and enthusiasm become a prerequisite for public service?
Another New York Congressman, Gary Ackerman, has dismissed Ms. Kennedy as just another celebrity. "I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are, except that she has name recognition, but so does J.Lo," Mr. Ackerman said. "I wouldn't make J.Lo the senator unless she proved she had great qualifications, but we haven't seen them yet." This is a wholly unwarranted putdown. I don't remember Mr. Ackerman criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he enlisted Caroline Kennedy to serve as head of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the New York City Department of Education.
We have yet to hear a single substantive criticism of her ability, her intellect, or her political views. As Senator, she would most probably make education her signature issue. She would also continue Senator Clinton's commitment to women's and children's health issues. This is not only commendable, but would be of enormous value to New Yorkers and Americans alike.
When Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama last January in her powerful New York Times op-ed article, she reminded many of us that the ability to inspire is a powerful force for good. "I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own," she wrote. "There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents' grandchildren, with that sense of possibility."
As it happens, Caroline Kennedy has demonstrated during the 2008 presidential campaign that she, too, inspires many New Yorkers who have become disenchanted with politics as usual.
"I want a president," she continued, "who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved."
Those are also the qualities we should all want in a United States Senator. Based on her accomplishments, her words and her example, Caroline Kennedy has the potential of being an outstanding advocate for and representative of New York in the tradition of Jacob Javits, Robert F. Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. This New Yorker, for one, would love to see her in Washington next year alongside President Obama.
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City.