Break my heart
I want to go and cry
It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh, Caroline why
—The Beach Boys
Let's cut to the chase. I think it is a fine idea if New York Gov. David Paterson appoints Jack and Jackie Kennedy's daughter Caroline to the U.S. Senate.
It is not like we are electing a president. It is only a two-year appointment to fill the vacancy left by departing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Caroline will have to defend the seat, against both Democratic and Republican rivals, in 2010, and then run again in 2012. We will quickly find what political aptitude she has or has not inherited from her father's side of the family.
Frankly, the odds are not good. Her generation of Kennedys, perhaps understandably, given the traumas of their lives, have been a miserable disappointment at the family business. They have offered us plenty of Fredos and Sonnys, but no Michael Corleones.
Jackie recognized what the raging passions, inside and outside the Kennedy family, could do to a person, and she kept her children—John Jr. and Caroline—sequestered. John dabbled in public life, unimpressively. Caroline was a mystery.
Now she now proposes to revive and harness those passions. She starts with a store of goodwill. She is a friend of the president-elect. She is a New Yorker. She is a celebrity. The reviews may be harsh, but there will be no problem filling seats in the audience. Nor have Kennedys had a hard time raising funds. In Washington, her uncle Teddy will watch out for her, and tutor her, as he fights his last battle, with cancer. And she's a gal, taking over for another famous gal, at a time when it's not so bad to be a gal in the Senate.
Our silly secret, here in America, is that we like dynasties. Long before the Bushes and the Clintons and the Kennedys, we had Longs and Lees and Roosevelts and Adamses. Most of our institutions—academia, the U.S. military, Hollywood—recognize that a good family name comes to stand for something. In Caroline's case, her Kennedy brand means wit and grace and guts and a fierce defense of life's underdogs.
I don't worry about Caroline passing the wit and grace test. It would take a very cruel genetic turn for Jack and Jackie's daughter to come up short in those departments. I am concerned about her guts and ferocity.
In her rambling, crazy, and emotional family, Caroline's parents were the masters of irony, intellect, and detachment. It showed in Jackie's diffidence, in JFK's cool calculation, and in John Jr.'s waverings.
Caroline will have to prove—as Hillary did before her—that she can feel the pain and touch the hearts of those she wants to represent in Washington. Elections are grand schemes for proving. We'll know soon enough, as we witness her touch with working folks in gritty Queens and Nassau County, with voters in rust belt upstate towns like Rochester and Buffalo, and with New York City's teeming minorities.
Caroline's cool surfaces will melt, she'll bleed for New York, or she won't be in the Senate long. And then we'll all be singing the Brian Wilson song.
Could I ever find in you again
Things that made me love you so much then
Could we ever bring them back once they have gone
Oh, Caroline no