02 February 2009

Caroline's Comedy Hour: An Oral History.

Last week's New Yorker has a summing-up of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's "campaign" for the U.S. Senate seat for New York opened up by Senator Clinton's promotion to the State Department. Larissa MacFarquhar's article is a collection of impressions from the "candidate's" friends, acquaintances and would-be allies. The author sought an interview with her subject, but was turned down. The result reminds me of the fable of the blind men and the elephant, but that thought is answered instantly by Gertrude Stein's comment about the city of Oakland: "There's no there there." An elephant is possibly too substantial a metaphor for Caroline Kennedy the fledgling politician. But here are some subjective impressions to grope toward:

She’s not glib, in the way that predictable politicians can be glib. She is thoughtful, articulate, fundamentally decent, and if you discussed any number of complicated issues with her currently part of the political dialogue she would be both informed and deeply thoughtful.
-Richard Plepler, HBO co-president.

This is the part that I have found most absurd in the press coverage: a childish level of analysis of what’s involved in campaigning in New York State, how many hands do you have to shake in state fairs and what kind of smile do you have to have, as though it’s something extraordinarily difficult to master. The politics of campaigning are so simple: I’m going to beat you and leave you dead in a snowbank in New Hampshire and never look back. But in the Senate you can be trying to prevail over another senator on Tuesday afternoon whose vote you know you’re going to need on Wednesday afternoon for something else. The ordinary work of the Senate never involves fighting. Virtually all the people who run for Senate seats lie and say they’re going to fight, but what they’re actually going to do—which they may not know when they go to Washington for the first time—is beg. And beg people like me, whom they’ve never heard of, the staff director of this or that committee, before they ever get to meet the chairman. So the personal qualities necessary for Senate work are politeness and charm and graciousness and generosity, which New York tabloids have no comprehension of. Why should they? The press is never allowed in the rooms where governance actually takes place.
-- Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC.

As the weeks went by, people who were not her friends questioned whether she had the fluency or the toughness to fight for the Senate seat, as she’d have to in 2010. Could she handle the hot dogs and the fried dough? Was she ready for Utica? This sort of questioning drove the friends insane. It was so irrelevant. After all, she didn’t have to campaign in the same way that an unknown person has to. People already knew who she was, she already had their attention.
-- MacFarquhar.

You always get a sense of entitlement or a sense of royalty, whether it’s the Rockefellers or the Kennedys, and she never came off like that at all. It was never like she felt like you were honored to meet her. She came off very studious, very sober, very serious. And I had that impression of her way before she ever thought about politics.
-- Rev. Al Sharpton.

I somehow can’t see her as being corrupt. It’s not her legacy. I kind of like the idea, maybe because I’m old.
-- Marie Owen, flautist.
This is a person who has the blessing of using her remarkable position to advance larger issues, and, because she has never taken advantage of that, that is something that speaks to the integrity and, not to be too corny, but, the nobility of what she’s doing now.
-- Plepler.

This generation salutes her and Ted for what they did for Obama. I’ll give you an example. When she got out of the car in front of Sylvia’s, people in the streets were screaming ‘Caroline!’ ‘Caroline!’ ‘Senator!’ I was amazed. Young people. And when we walked in, the people in the restaurant stood up and started clapping. And let me tell you why I thought that was interesting: they didn’t react that way to Obama when I brought him there. When I brought Obama there, people were shaking his hand, but they weren’t standing up and applauding. I was like, Wow, what is this? I talked to them, and people said, ‘No, man, she risked a lot for us.’ And, see, when you did something for people that nobody does something for, and you didn’t have to do it, it hits an emotional thing with us.
-- Sharpton.

One of the things that we have to observe is that DNA in this business can take you just so far. You know, Rembrandt was a great artist. His brother Murray, on the other hand—Murray Rembrandt wouldn’t paint a house.
-- Rep. Gary Ackerman.

There are very few people who walk into the Senate and know they’ll be heard immediately. What have two-thirds of the Senate done before they got there? Served in the state legislature? You think that is a better qualification than her intellect, her breadth of experience, her ability to get things done for the state? I don’t think so.
-- Plepler.

She’s the only person that New York can send to the Senate who is immediately valuable to other senators. Because there are really only three people in the Democratic Party who you can say is coming to your fund-raiser and sell tickets from that, and they are Barack and Michelle Obama and Caroline Kennedy. Hillary Clinton had that, too, and that enabled her to have a value to other senators right off the bat that she could then translate into what she could get for New York
-- O'Donnell.

Jackie and Caroline had similar personalities. They tended to bury their emotions. They were like icebergs. They revealed only a small portion of themselves—everything else was deeply submerged.
--Andy Warhol.

Caroline tended to see the foibles in people, whereas John looked for more positive traits. Caroline could cut people down with a few trenchant words; John built them up. She had a dark sense of humor, a rapier wit; his was effervescent. She trusted nobody, he trusted everyone.
-- George Plimpton.

Katie Couric: Do you ever feel any pressure, I know you’re very shy —
Caroline: Are you going to ask me if I’m going to run for office, by any chance? Is that where you’re going with this question?
Couric: What do you think?
Caroline: Well, you know, it’s incredible, you’re just so creative.
Couric: Well, no, but I think people do. Maybe if you have any renewed interest in going into political office, I mean, you already are in public service, but because of Teddy’s illness and because of the era sort of coming to a close, I’m just wondering if you feel any kind of responsibility at all or if you feel completely comfortable with the path you’ve taken.
Caroline: Well, I don’t make a lot of long-range plans.

In the case of the Profiles in Courage awards, she’s made it clear in recent years that she doesn’t always want us to recognize people who are political losers. She wants the award to be given to people who succeed. That was reflected last year in two women she championed who are still in office. And that was quite an interesting philosophical discussion, because I think almost all the cases that her father described were cases of people who paid a huge political price for their actions. She felt that there was more than room for courage in politics among those who are successful.
John Shattuck, John F. Kennedy presidential library.

While she was in the White House—when she was three, four years old—the public was obsessed with her to the point of madness. Strangers sent her letters. Someone came out with a Caroline Kennedy doll. Press interest in her was insatiable—and while her mother hated the idea of her being in the newspapers, her father tended to encourage it, because it helped him.
-- MacFarquhar.

To put yourself through that seems like a lot for her, but I take my hat off to her, because changing your life up and trying things at—you know, she’s not twenty-five—takes a certain amount of guts. She’s not stupid, she knew that the life she knew would come to an end whether she got the appointment or not, and that’s a tough thing for anyone, giving away the life you’ve had.
-- An anonymous friend.

But in the end, it seems, she could not give away the life she had. Despite all the work that her friends and supporters put into her bid, despite all the behind-the-scenes campaigning, despite all the fuss and the coverage and the lunches and the phone calls and the public-relations consultants, she decided that she would prefer not to. Her friends could support her and spin for her and be excited for her, but they couldn’t make her want it. There would be three more days of bad press, and then everyone would forget about it and leave her alone.
-- MacFarquhar.

Whether it be the disclosure of intimate details about a person’s life or interference with private decisions there is a growing sense that all of us, well known and unknown, are losing control.
-- Caroline Kennedy, The Right to Privacy,
co-authored with Ellen Alderman.
Figure the rest out for yourselves, but I don't guarantee that you can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I get the point. If they're saying she gave up her bid because she valued her privacy & income statements more than public service, then she was the wrong person for the job all along. I'm glad she dropped out. I don't believe she would have been very effective, nor do I believe she could properly represent the working class people of New York State, having never been working class herself.