Career Opportunities

Lately I've been thinking about, and reading about, Caroline Kennedy. And I've come to the conclusion that people, both those supporting and those opposing her potential appointment as the junior Senator for New York state, are confusing what should be two independent questions, and it's leading them astray.

Here's one question: is Caroline Kennedy doing anything wrong, or otherwise worthy of criticism, by trying to persuade David Patterson that he should appoint her to the Senate?
Here's another question: if David Patterson were to appoint Caroline Kennedy to the Senate tomorrow, how should voters feel about it?

And here are two answers: No, she's not. Less favorable towards him than they presently do.

Now I'll play the “resolve an apparent inconsistency” game. Caroline Kennedy has a really excellent idea of how she'd vote on various bills and which bills she'd want to write or sponsor or otherwise make her priorities, plus anything she'd what to do in terms of the Senate's oversight role. She has a slightly less good, but still pretty good, idea of how she'll interact with other members of the Senate and other key players in and outside of government (I mean this purely in the sense that she can introspect and know how she reacts to other people, though she she probably also has experiential knowledge of how she gets along with particular colleagues from her affiliation with her uncle, current Sen. Kennedy, and the Obama campaign). And, just making an assumption for the sake of argument, she might have a somewhat good idea about how other people who could potentially be appointed by Patterson would do at all these things, and reasonably think she'd do the best job of them. In which case, it's fine for her to try to get the job.

On the second question, I think I've coyly hinted at why my answer was what it was with all my talk above about things Caroline Kennedy knows. The problem is that while she has epistemological access to all that information, voters n general certainly don't, and Gov. Patterson doesn't really either. One good way for people to get a lot of that information about a candidate for office is to watch how they fulfill the duties of another office, but that's not always available, in which case you can learn a lot of it by watching them campaign. So the reason I'm at present bothered by the idea of appointing Kennedy as opposed to someone who has campaigned for and won an office isn't because there's anything so great, ennobling, or wisdom-providing about campaigning for and holding an office. It's because unless she at least campaigns for the office, I can't figure out if she'll be any good at holding office. Answering written questions from the NY Times and two other papers is a good start to this, but it's just a start. She needs to, at minimum give interviews and engage in live question and answer sessions.

One might reasonably respond to all that by asking why she should campaign to the voters, when the choice is Patterson's and Patterson's alone. And in answer to that, the only answer is that Patterson should require her to do so, and he should require her (and anyone else he's seriously considering) to do so because otherwise the Governor is going to piss off more voters than he has to and increase the chances that he'll be blamed for any missteps by whomever it is he appoints.