The Blagojevich scandal was an inadvertent boon to New York Governor David Paterson, who previously was square in the spotlight while deliberating over his selection to replace Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton in the Senate. But a news item today will put Paterson--who evidently was the butt of a lousy and borderline-offensive Saturday Night Live bit this past weekend, making fun of his vision impairment--back in the public eye. Caroline Kennedy wants the seat.
I don't have a strong opinion on Caroline Kennedy, other than I guess gratitude that she endorsed Obama early and, up till now, some admiration for her determination to stay out of the public spotlight. As readers of this blog know, I find political nepotism pretty disgusting, and Ms. Kennedy's general distance from public life suggested to me, in what was maybe wishful thinking on my part, that she was determined not to leverage her famous name and place in the public imagination. She's supposed to be smart and conscientious, and certainly she hasn't embarrassed herself like so many of the other Kennedys. But what exactly has she done, other than being a Kennedy and endorsing Obama (which presumably is a bug, not a feature, to the Clintonites and many former Clinton supporters in New York public life), to merit appointment to the Senate?
Unfortunately, the celebrity takeover of our politics seems to be gaining strength if anything, and despite the legacy of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger it seems to be most strongly rooted in my party. I'm rooting hard for Al Franken to win the endless Minnesota Senate election, but the truth is he never should have gotten that nomination in the first place: the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party has a pretty damn deep bench. Probably the most egregious manifestation of this, way more offensive than Caroline Kennedy, is the possibility of Chris Matthews running for Senate in Pennsylvania against Arlen Specter in 2010. Why this legendarily irritating television personality, best known for his vaguely homoerotic pronouncements about George W. Bush, Fred Thompson and Barack Obama, feels entitled to compete for a spot in the world's greatest deliberative body is entirely beyond me. Pennsylvania, like Minnesota, has no shortage of up-and-coming Democratic public officials. If they turn to Tweety, I'll hope they lose--even to the weasel Specter, who started offending history when he came up with the Magic Bullet Theory more than forty years ago and hasn't much slowed down since.
One idea I'm toying with about the rising incidence of celebrity office-seekers and -holders is that for most of us, politics is so expensive and distasteful that the negatives of getting involved as a participant easily outweigh the positives. I have a few friends, through professional circles, who contemplate seeking local office; that I can see, as these people have areas of expertise and strong ideas about the needs of their communities. But a city-, state-, or nationwide race offers the prospect of having your personality totally distorted, at potentially devastating personal cost in terms of strain on family, and the very real prospect of defeat and embarrassment. Maybe in the case of Caroline Kennedy or Chris Matthews, they already are firmly enough fixed in the public mind that even if their service is a total disaster, it won't represent the sum of how they're remembered--and they're already rich enough that the money, both in terms of what a campaign might cost and the lower compensation (at least in Matthews' case) of the job, doesn't really matter.
But I have a hard time believing that these famous-for-other-reasons people are really the best we can call upon to represent us at the highest levels of power.