Palin's on mark about Kennedy class bias

January 12, 2009|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is in the news again, comparing her rough treatment by the news media with the "kid gloves" treatment of Senate hopeful Caroline Kennedy and suggesting that a kind of class prejudice explains the difference.

I am not sure what passes for kid gloves in Alaska, but the thinness of Kennedy's resume has been noted repeatedly, and there is a YouTube mash-up of her using the verbal crutch "you know" 46 times in a five-minute interview.

No experience and garbles the language. Sound familiar, Governor Palin?

But the point about class prejudice? Absolutely on the mark.

There is a whole generation of Americans for whom the comparison of Michelle Obama to Jackie Kennedy makes no sense. They were born long after that name had lost its magic.

But for the rest of us, Caroline Kennedy will forever be America's princess and the tragic survivor of a doomed house. If anything, we wish she had not given up her elegant isolation to enter the rough-and-tumble of politics.

Palin's suggestion that she and Kennedy are being treated differently because one is a hockey mom from the woods of Alaska with a state school education and the other is a Manhattanite with a pair of Ivy League degrees and a ton of money is a comparison that just doesn't work.

Caroline is a Kennedy, for heaven's sake, not some dilettante socialite. And, love 'em or hate 'em, that name trumps everything else for many Americans.

Does that name make her U.S. Senate material? Is it the only thing New York Gov. David Paterson should consider when appointing Hillary Clinton's replacement?

Probably not.

He should also consider the facts that she would be a heck of a fundraiser for the Democratic Party and that she would probably be able to keep that seat safe from Republicans when she came up for election in two years.

And her Mommy Track life hasn't exactly been all car pools and soccer snacks. She has a Columbia law degree and has written a couple of thoughtful law books, and she sits on a handful of important boards, and she has raised millions for New York City's public schools.

Put all that aside and tell me what is necessary to be a U.S. senator - to be one of 100 as opposed to one heartbeat away.

According to the Constitution, a senator must be 30 years of age, a U.S. citizen and must reside in the state to be represented. Beyond that, things get pretty loose. You can have played in the NFL or the NBA or ridden a rocket into space or been a star on The Love Boat.

You can take bribes, cheat on your wife or get caught in an airport bathroom. You can even pay for the seat, provided the guy selling it to you doesn't get caught talking about his plans over a phone that's bugged.

It is what you do after you get there that counts. Ted Kennedy was just "little brother Teddy," the assistant DA, when the family name got him elected in 1962, and he is now venerated as "The Lion of the Senate."

And Virginia's John Warner, who just retired after a 30-year career characterized by integrity and accomplishment, was best-known as Elizabeth Taylor's sixth husband before he was elected.

Howard Baker and Al Gore rode the tide of their famous names to the Senate, and both had distinguished careers.

And among Kennedy's competition for the appointment is Andrew Cuomo, son of the three-term governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, and a former Kennedy by marriage.

All of this makes the point that it isn't who you are but what you do that counts in the end.

And if a family fortune and a pedigree that will get you a meeting with anybody in the world aren't credentials enough to get you in the door, consider this:

According to a Congressional Research Service report, the 110th Congress, replaced last week by the 111th, had tons of lawyers and even more business executives, mayors, governors and state legislators.

But it also had a former radio talk show host, a screenwriter, three carpenters, two vintners, an organic farmer, a ski instructor, a mortician, a toll booth collector and a bellhop, not to mention the riverboat captain and the taxi driver.

It looks like we have a place for the common man in government. I think the rich and famous deserve a seat, too.

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