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Caroline and Me | The Nation

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Subject to Debate

Caroline and Me

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Caroline Kennedy would like to be a senator. I don't blame her. So would I! Especially if Governor Paterson could just waft me into office, and I didn't have to, um, you know, campaign. I'll bet some parts of the job are really fun, and it's public service, which is so uplifting. You think I'm joking, but every argument that has been advanced for Kennedy is just as true for me. She's a mother, a writer, a person with no electoral experience or, so far as we know, longstanding interest in acquiring any--me too! She has more kids; I've written more books--I'd say it averages out.

About the Author

Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her "Subject to...

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They aren’t very interested in compromise, or birth control—or, for that matter, in engaging much with pro-choicers.

In her column in The New York Times Magazine, Lisa Belkin argues that it's sexist to write off mothers who have opted out of the standard male-defined career path and want to come back into the workforce in midlife: it's not like those women have been twiddling their thumbs. They just don't have a traditional ten-single-spaced-page résumé of directly related paid employment, like (Belkin's zinger) "playing for the NBA or the NFL or starring on 'The Love Boat.'" Quite right: besides the books and the children, Kennedy has a law degree, she's sat on worthy boards, raised money for the New York City public schools and (although, oddly, Belkin doesn't mention this) she served, apparently quite effectively, on Obama's vice presidential search committee. "Take away the part about her father the president and her uncles the senators, ignore for the moment her Park Avenue address, peel away the talk of the dangers of dynasty and the power of privilege, don't even touch the question of whether anyone would be picking apart her credentials if it were a male Kennedy who was under consideration--and what is at the core of all this shouting is what, nowadays, counts as experience." Exactly. Take away all that, and what have you got? Someone as fit to be in the Senate as me. My relatives are also pretty great, if you want to know, and furthermore raise no awkward dynastic issues, being rooted in the meat business and the less profitable parts of the legal profession. I would be the very first senator in the history of the Pollitt and Levine clans. And as for opting out--I am so opted out, the high point of one recent week was catching the rarely rerun Stephen Colbert episode on Law & Order.

I really don't see how Governor Paterson can resist me. He is, by all accounts, a reasonable man, able, as Belkin advises, to set aside irrelevant stuff like Kennedy's family, wealth, reluctance to reveal her finances, fondness for verbalized pauses, apparent diffidence and lifelong lack of zeal for politics. Her cousin Kerry Kennedy said on Hardball that she didn't know Caroline's position on abortion (she's prochoice) because they had never discussed it. If true, those two have indeed led a charmed life, and so has everyone they know, because, besides abortion being one of the most-discussed issues of our lifetime, unwanted pregnancy is one of the things life tends to throw at women, and women do talk about it among themselves. It's good to know that Kennedy is prochoice, but as with many other of her stated positions--opposition to the Iraq War, support for labor law reform and fair trade--we have no idea how firmly she holds these views or how much she cares about them. That would definitely not be a problem with me: it's all laid out in print.

OK, forget me, but if the governor is going to appoint a private citizen of the female gender--and I hope he will because it is just ridiculous that only sixteen senators are women--it is hard to believe Caroline Kennedy is the most gifted, energetic, focused, can-do woman around. New York is full of brilliant, accomplished women--Judith Kaye! Gail Collins! Rachel Maddow! In fact, there are so many fabulous amateurs, maybe he should just go with a professional. What about former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, noted civil libertarian and scourge of the Bush administration? Or Representative Carolyn Maloney? She's got experience--not that we care about that--she's a liberal, NOW and Feminist Majority are backing her, and moving her to the Senate would free up her district, which just happens to be where Caroline Kennedy has that irrelevant Park Avenue residence, so Kennedy can run for her seat and get into office the old-fashioned way. After all, people mocked Hillary Clinton as a princessy dilettante when she ran for the Senate in 2000. But she showed them. She didn't need Maureen Dowd-like appeals to the "magic" of her name. She just went out and got more votes than her opponent. In a democracy, that's the way to opt back in.

Turning to Illinois, another state where a governor is bestowing a Senate seat--aka "a #%$&#! golden thing"--there's good news. Actually, great news. Tom Geoghegan is running for Rahm Emanuel's Congressional seat. Tom (I'm using his first name because I know him a bit) is a labor lawyer with thirty years of experience (yes, I know, that word) and a writer of considerable genius--Which Side Are You On? may be the best book ever about the decline of organized labor. He's a true progressive, honest, prochoice and pro-gay marriage, and if elected he would push, knowledgeably and aggressively, for all the right, important things. When I spoke with him for this column, he told me he had four main goals: single-payer health insurance ("If we have to move to it in stages, let's do that"), an expanded and universal pension system, a cap on interest rates and government action to make sure wages go up in line with productivity. "The meltdown has opened up possibilities," he told me. "It's time to run on a platform of making changes in our economic system. If we're ever going to make it fairer and more just for working people, it's now--or never." Sick of timorous, dithering Democrats? Tom could be the next Paul Wellstone.

In a crowded primary field--there may be as many as twenty people running--Geoghegan has a good chance if he gets union and progressive support. That's where you come in. Read all about his campaign at geogheganforcongress.com. Use the donate button there, or mail a check to Geoghegan for Congress, PO Box 1145, Chicago, IL 60690.

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