Palin Sexism Redux: The Caroline Kennedy Qualifications Debate

Don't be fooled by cheap attacks, writes GOP strategist Peter Roff.

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, speaks at the Wilkes University student center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, speaks at the Wilkes University student center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

By + More

In the modern era, we have the Tafts of Ohio, the Roosevelts, the Chicago Daleys, the Browns of California, the Bushes (of everywhere), and, yes, the Kennedys. Names that are loved and reviled with equal passion among the American electorate and are, to be candid, difficult to beat whenever they appear on the ballot. And so the discussion of "qualifications" is raised, as though our natural revulsion over the idea of entitlement should be enough to derail a nomination or an election or an appointment.

But what are the qualifications to be a U.S. senator? Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says a senator must be at least 30 years old at the time of taking office; must have been a U.S. citizen for at least the past nine years; and must, at the time of election (or, in this case, appointment) be an inhabitant of the state he or she seeks to represent. So, in the strictest sense, Kennedy is easily qualified.

But what about in the broader sense?

James Madison, writing in Federalist 62, explained that the more stringent qualifications for the Senate than for the House of Representatives result from the need for a "greater extent of information and stability of character." As there is no obvious reason to doubt Kennedy meets this standard, she hits the mark here, too.

It is difficult to say what, other than the constitutional provisions, qualifies a person for service in the Senate. Certainly, one may hope that any aspirant to such high office has integrity, is of sound mind, is possessed of love of country and its institutions, has respect for the law, and possesses an interest in and ties to the community he or she seeks to represent, a vision for the future, perhaps even a record of sacrifice that points to the sincerity of his or her convictions. There is nothing to suggest Caroline Kennedy does not have those characteristics, while there are many things to suggest she does, in abundance.

It is OK to say that she is not the right choice for New York. Or to point to her lack of experience as an elected official and say that it would be a detriment to the interests of the state. Or to say that you don't want her in the Senate because she's a Kennedy and there are already enough of them in Congress.

The one thing you may not say is that she's "unqualified" because, by any reasonable standard, she is.

Peter Roff is the former political director of GOPAC and former senior political writer for United Press International.

  • Read more about Caroline Kennedy.
  • Read more by Peter Roff.