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Caroline Kennedy too sheltered for national office


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Rumors have been flying about the reason why Caroline Kennedy decided to withdraw her bid for Hillary Clinton's vacated Senate seat. Some publications reported that it was because of a tax issues and marital challenges, which included an alleged high-profile affair and a supposed ultimatum from her husband, who threatened to end the marriage if she moved to Washington, D.C. Others said that it was sour grapes. Kennedy had learned that she would not get the nomination and could not face the public humiliation, so she quietly withdrew.

Well, if you ask me, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg is a bad sport. Is she being discriminated against because she is a woman? I'm opting for the obvious answer -- she was not ready for national politics, and sexism had very little to do with it. She was not qualified for the position and did not get it. Instead, Gov. David Paterson appointed Democratic U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill New York's vacant Senate seat. He appointed someone with political experience, who has worked with Hillary Clinton and fellow candidate state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is a great public speaker and who has been serving in the House. She's even slightly conservative and represented a rural district. Paterson made a sound decision, especially considering that Kennedy wavered several times on whether she wanted the position and ultimately resigned with an e-mail.

Some argued that the microscope that they were putting Kennedy under was not the same as other political candidates. Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and Paterson anyone? Give me a break. To pretend that Kennedy was hampered more than she was helped by her lineage is ludicrous. The Kennedy name carries enormous weight in the political world and the world at large. Yes, she was critiqued mercilessly. Unfortunately, that is par for the course in national politics. Hell, local politics function in the same way in many cities. To think that she was going to go unscathed in this vetting process is ridiculous.

The fact that people thought it was cool for her to get this position with no political experience, coupled with her public disdain for the political process, undercuts any claims of sexism. Kennedy is successful in her own right, having worked tirelessly on behalf of civic and social issues, including women's rights. By no means is she a scrub; she's just not the ideal candidate for this position. The only reason that she was being considered is because of her last name. Her public endorsement of Obama during the Democratic primaries probably didn't hurt either.

Caught up in the emotion and energy of Obama's brilliant campaign, she decided that she wanted to take a stab at politics. This is a wonderful. Whenever someone can inspire you to want to help and make a difference, particularly in an area that previously disgusted you, it should be celebrated. Wanting to get into politics was not a bad thing. Kennedy just chose the wrong starting point, and that is because she thought she had the right last name. What she and other powerful people in this country have forgotten is that dynasties are the last thing that this country is looking for right now. We've had enough Clintons and Bushes in political office to last a lifetime.

Aside from the political machine, she just was not ready. Did the rags have to circulate information about her alleged high-profile affair, marital issues or tax problems? No, but in national politics, all is fair. It's not the way it should be, but it is the way that it is. Even Kennedy is not immune to this process. She just wasn't ready for this type of spotlight as evidenced by her flip-flopping on whether to continue in the race or not. She called Paterson, who according to most accounts planned on picking her in spite of her lack of experience and personal challenges, to back out of the race. They talked about it and agreed that she would stay in the race. She subsequently sent an e-mail pulling out of the race. I guess if he could not guarantee her the seat, she was not interested or couldn't stand the pressure.

With national politics, you have to be in it to win it, and she obviously was not. Why? Because she lacked the political experience, confidence, public speaking skills and chutzpah to be in that scene! Not even having Kennedy as a last name could help that -- at least not for a woman. I highly doubt that she could've been involved in someone's death and become a member of Congress. That is where the sexism comes into play, if at all. The talk of her alleged affair ruining her chances is fiddle-faddle. Even Paterson and his wife admitted to extramarital affairs, and frankly, affairs are part of political culture.

Let's not throw every battered politician under the category of sexism. Is there a double standard? Yes. Did Kennedy not get this job because of sexism? Probably not. Before Obama, she was so disinterested in politics that she didn't vote. Lets stop painting this very capable woman as being a victim. At best, she was in over her head. At worst, she's an arrogant socialite who thought that it was her birthright to trade on her last name in order to get a coveted position for which she was not qualified.

I'll take sheltered for $1,000, Alex. A woman who had been sheltered from the glare of public scrutiny found herself knee-deep in it. Honestly, if Kennedy could not handle two months of public scrutiny, how in the world was she going to handle two years?

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for


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