Thursday, December 18, 2008

Would naming Caroline Kennedy to HRC's Senate seat be sexist?

That's what Nicholas Kristof suggests on his blog yesterday. He writes:
Caroline Kennedy strikes me as a very impressive woman with all the right priorities, such as education. But I also find it unseemly and undemocratic that she seems to have vaulted to the top of the Senate list by virtue of who her dad was. . . . Isn’t that sexist?
I'm not sure how it is (or would be) sexist . . . unless he is drawing some analogy to McCain's selection of Palin, which many argued (plausibly) was attributable almost solely to the fact that Palin was female and McCain knew he needed female voters. Also, I suppose there is the argument that because Hillary Rodham Clinton has held the seat, it has become a "woman's seat" and should be filled by another woman.

Kristof hints at both bases for the "sexist" label later in the column. He suggests that naming Kennedy would be "disrespectful of so many other women in New York politics who have worked for many years in Congress and accumulated tremendous experience and credentials." Kristof lists Carolyn Maloney, "one of the great champions of women around the world on issues ranging from sex trafficking to reproductive health" and Nita Lowey, "a formidable member of Congress with a great record of getting things done." Then, however, Kristof suggests that the sexism would be in naming Caroline Kennedy to the post "because of her father," while overlooking qualified "women who have earned their own substantial credentials."

That's an argument for which I have some appreciation, though I thought many readers' comments on the blog post made good points. Several pointed out that it would be nepotism, not sexism, to pick Kennedy on the basis of who her father was. Others were more supportive of Caroline Kennedy, with many seeing value for New York in her "star power."

Gail Collins' column today, which is titled "Ms. Kennedy," also takes up the merits of her possible appointment to the seat. She notes that Caroline Kennedy has been a very successful fund raiser for the NYC public schools, but cautions this does not necessarily make her a great political fund-raiser. Collins also observes in Caroline Kennedy a trait she shares with Hillary Clinton, and it might be seen as a female trait: being a good listener.

Collins closes with, "If Kennedy wants to succeed Clinton, she’s got every right to give it a shot." Obviously, Collins is a bit more positive than Kristof about the prospect and potential of Caroline Kennedy as U.S. Senator. Also, Collins doesn't mention sexism, perhaps because she does not see it as a force in Gov. Paterson's decision.

On a somewhat related note, I find interesting how Kennedy has presented her qualifications. Yesterday, in upstate New York, she answered a reporter's question about them this way:
“I just hope everybody understands that it is not a campaign but that I have a lifelong devotion to public service * * * I’ve written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation. And I’ve raised my family. I think I really could help bring change to Washington.”
Read full coverage from the NYTimes here.

Sarah Palin was often ridiculed by liberals when she invoked her experiences as a mother as a credential relevant to being an effective U.S. Vice President. I wonder if Caroline Kennedy's invocation of her role in raising three children will be viewed in the same way.

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