Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ancestry Is No Guarantee Of Excellence

I was listening to MSNBC's Nora McDonald this morning, as she tried to provoke a fight between the Republican talking head and the Democratic talking head over why Caroline Kennedy was being questioned about her qualification to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. The Republican talking head said it was sexism that was provoking all the questioning, and the Democratic talking head actually agreed. They both cited the questioning of Sarah Palin as another example of men doubting that women can handle the responsibilities of public office. I think both of them were talking out of their asses.

I'm already on record as opposing Kennedy's appointment to the seat, but it's got nothing to do with sexism. Caroline Kennedy is an intelligent, well-educated woman, but she has never held elective office. I don't think that just because she's a Kennedy, she's automatically both the most-qualified and the natural first choice for the appointment. As Rachel Maddow said last night, why don't we just go ahead and make the Senate into the House of Lords?--because we have far too many legacy elections and/or appointments in government already, from the disastrous election of George W. Bush, to the first election of Hillary (Mrs. President Bill) Clinton as the Senator from New York, and the assumption that Joe Biden's son Beau will take his Senate seat as soon as he returns from Iraq, just to name a few. Being born into a political family does give one a leg up, just as being born into a family of doctors or a family of CPAs will help a child if they choose to go into that profession. But it doesn't guarantee excellence in that particular field, no matter the pedigree. We need look no further than GWB to see the truth of that assertion.

On the other hand, being elected to public office is no guarantee of excellence, either. Sarah Palin is the governor of Alaska, previously was the mayor of Wasilla, AK, and she's a dumb as a post. Palin was questioned about her qualifications because her selection as the Republican vice presidential candidate was made with no regard as to her intelligence, her general and political knowledge, her understanding of current national and international issues, her knowledge and understanding of the U.S. Constitution, Federal law, the legislative process, and an awareness of the responsibilities of the office--all of which she most abjectly lacked. Palin was questioned because she demonstrated, over and over again, that she was a clueless idiot and a disaster-in-waiting as the potential VP of a presidential candidate who was seventy-two years old. It was entirely appropriate to question Sarah Palin's qualifications because, like Caroline Kennedy, she was not vetted by the voters before assuming such a potentially important office. Palin was appointed as a candidate without experience in a national office and exposure on the national stage, and her lack of qualifications for the office soon became glaringly obvious.

Caroline Kennedy is now being put forward as a candidate, although she has a different though similar lack of experience and exposure. Kennedy has been a very private person up to now, preferring to work on the sidelines rather than being on the front lines as an elected official. And though she's a lawyer, an advocate for education and children's issues in New York state, and the daughter of one President and the niece of two U.S. senators (among her many family connections in politics), she has never run for or held elective office before. And while I don't think that having previously held office is a mandatory requirement for membership in the Senate (see my support for Al Franken's senate bid), I do think that one's pedigree doesn't automatically grant that person the experience and exposure necessary to be an effective senator. I'm sure that Caroline Kennedy is an intelligent, thoughtful, progressive woman, but so are a lot of other New York women, and some of them are already elected officials. Why not one of them, instead?

Being governor of a state with a population of 680,000 and having no knowledge or prior interest in the government, laws, and issues facing this country, does not prepare someone to be Vice President or President of the United States. And being a Kennedy does not prepare someone to represent New York in the United States Senate. It's not sexist, it's reasonable and necessary questioning.

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