Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why Caroline Kennedy Dropped Out

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight looks at the time line and speculates on the possible reasons Ms. Kennedy decided to withdraw from consideration for the Senate seat from New York.

The first possibility is that David Paterson decided some days ago to go with another candidate, and gave Kennedy the opportunity to save face by withdrawing her name from consideration. You know: the old “You Can’t Fire Me! I Quit!” shtick.

The second possibility, not entirely mutually exclusive with the first, is that Kennedy was just not all that into being a senator in the first place.

As much as I admire the Kennedy family and would have liked to see her take up the mantle of the job, I can also appreciate why she might have changed her mind. For one thing she’d have to start campaigning almost immediately for the full term in 2010, and she seems to have inherited her mother’s aversion to publicity, especially the paparazzi-style that has followed her for nearly fifty years. That’s not conducive to a good campaign, and there’s the fear, however remote, that she could lose. Kennedys do not lose elections, so why take the chance?

I also think she had a major hurdle to overcome, and that’s being taken seriously as a senator. Not that she’s not fully capable of fulfilling the duties of the office, but even if she was the most skilled politician to enter the chamber, she’d still be Caroline the celebrity, not unlike the person she would have replaced. It took a while for people — including her fellow senators — to take Hillary Clinton seriously. Fortunately, Ms. Clinton knew that would happen and she made it clear from her first day in office that she was the junior senator from New York and didn’t sweep into the Rotunda like she owned the joint. It’s unlikely that Ms. Kennedy would have felt any differently, but it’s also unlikely she would have been treated on the same scale as the new guy from New Mexico. (Besides, once the Minnesota race is resolved, the Senate will have its celebrity quotient filled.)

Some people do their best work behind the scenes. Ms. Kennedy has done a lot of good things on behalf of education in New York, and although it hasn’t gotten the attention of the tabloids, that’s probably a better way to serve the public than by going on the road to campaign in upstate New York.