Count another columnist, Susan Estrich, among those disappointed -- heartbroken, it seems, -- over Caroline Kennedy's failure to become a U.S. Senator. A column she published last Friday, apparently prior to the Gillibrand announcement, since the new Senator isn't mentioned by name, appeared in one of the local papers yesterday. Estrich's enthusiasm for Caroline is even more mysterious than Maureen Dowd's, since Estrich attributes to Mrs. Schlossberg a power of inspiration that no other female politician possesses.
"I believe she would have been a wonderful senator -- committed, compassionate and inspirational," Estrich writes. I suppose she has a right to believe this, though already we have the word "inspirational" begging the obvious question. "I believe we desperately need women like her, women of stature, women who command attention, who could do and be anything in the world, but choose public service." Estrich imagines a Sen. Kennedy who would "inspire a generation of women -- girls today -- to walk in her footsteps."
The columnist returns to this theme toward the end of her article. Wishing Caroline well, she laments that "when a little girl walks into the gallery of the U.S. Senate, she will have a hard time recognizing anyone who looks like her as she looks down on the assembled senators. There are strong and smart women there, but none who would inspire in that little girl the same dream Caroline Kennedy could inspire, none who will make her feel, as Obama today makes countless young African-Americans feel, that they can do anything, and that nothing they could do matters more than serving their fellow Americans."
Why should Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg be so much more inspiring to little girls than any actual female Senator? There are two possible answers. One is implicit in the last quote, that there'd be something special about a celebrity like Caroline Kennedy condescending to serve in the Senate alongside all those grinds and career politicians.This effect might be the sort that would have resulted had Oprah Winfrey accepted the offer that Gov. Blagojevich has said he was considering of an Illinois seat in the Senate. The logic would seem to be that a wealthy celebrity entering the legislature would elevate the prestige of that body among the masses.
The other explanation comes from Estrich herself. "I wanted her to serve because her very presence on that floor, the presence of a woman who has throughout my life been larger than life, might inspire so many other girls to dream the sort of dream that our country's future depends upon." That's emphasis added, by the way. Women like Estrich and Maureen Dowd have more or less grown up with Caroline Kennedy, so that JFK's daughter could be "larger than life" for them while she was still a little girl. And while most people's mental image of Caroline, until last summer, was probably that of a little girl, an eternal child in a storybook White House, women of a certain age and certain career choices may see Caroline's coming of age as a public figure as the fulfillment of a storybook destiny that is theirs as a generation as well as hers. It's a more modest ambition than that of the infamous "PUMAs" of last summer who raged at Clinton's defeat in the Democratic primaries as the failure of their chance to see a female President in their lifetime, but it's just as much a mass delusion indicative of disorder in the public mind. The Caroline mania is worse, in a way, because the Clinton fanatics might be convinced that another woman might soon claim the greatest prize, but people like these columnists look like they'll never be satisfied unless Caroline herself fulfills the destiny that they'd impose on her and writes the happy ending to the national fantasy that she herself temporarily believed.