Speaking of American aristocracy and connections, go read Tina Brown on Caroline Kennedy. “Why now?” seems to be the question everyone is asking, and Kennedy has been utterly ineffectual in answering that question with her Upper East Side-inflected, dispassionate Locust Valley Lockjaw. It’s all about class, baby:
I have my own theory of why Caroline wants it—or, at least, why she suddenly emerged from her Upper East Side walk-in closet after 51 years.
Her default state of mind is captured by that affectless voice we hear on the AP tape and its self-defeating y’knows—dozens of them in less than two and a half minutes. To a British ear, it’s the same low-energy stance of the younger generation of the Royal Family or the grander British aristocracy—which, in American terms, is exactly what she is.
Take a tour of a British stately home with the laid-back heir or heiress to all the Gainsboroughs and Reynoldses on the satin walls (“This is the Red Room, yah, where, y’know, the Duke of Marlborough was, I dunno, like arrested, we just roller skate here now”) and you will experience the same gusts of disinterest that Caroline [has displayed recently.]
Self-made woman Brown isn’t buying this:
Caroline’s whole demeanor, with its combination of slouchiness and snippiness (also very royal) when her rank is challenged (“Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?…I thought you were the crack political team here”), proclaims the sad truth of her life: that being the heir to a legacy fraught with so much tragedy is a heavy-hearted chore—especially when you have no real visceral feel for the spirit that forged it. All those meetings with the great and the good at the Kennedy Library. All those requests from new biographers for interviews to turn down. All those battening social climbers, from as early as kindergarten, when the play-dates were about the moms who wanted to meet Jackie. All the lies—or, worse, truths—written about your family. It was, y’know, draining.
What would bring her out of her role as the reluctant conservator of her father’s memory? Why, Clinton Derangement Syndrome, of course, and the notion that the (supposedly) tacky and ambitious Clintons might cement their dominance of the Democratic Party!
But something happened last January as Caroline was pushed by her uncle Teddy to come out for Obama. The Kennedys, blindsided by the success of pea-picking, penny-ante, polyester-wearing provincials like the Carters and the Clintons, were never all that delighted when Bill Clinton’s wife commandeered RFK’s old Senate seat. Keeping Hillary out of the White House pulled Caroline off the sidelines as much as enthusiasm for Obama, who so shrewdly and assiduously courted the Kennedy blessing. Some of Caroline’s veiled dislike of Hillary was perhaps also vigor envy. No self-doubt in Hillary. No fear of the fight.
Strangely, Brown writes at the conclusion of her article that “I have to admit I’d love to see Princess Caroline get the seat just to watch that transformation. Perhaps that’s what the governor is betting on.” Here, of course, I disagree. For Brown, who is wealthy and has no social needs, the next U.S. Senator from New York can be just entertainment. But for actual New Yorkers, most of whom who are not wealthy and many of whom have pressing needs for health care, day care, elder care, assistance with disabled children and adults, social security, AFDC, food stamps, assistance with their home heating, it will matter. I just really, y’know hope that Governor Patterson keeps that, y’know, foremost in his mind when he, y’know makes up his mind.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Wurtzel puts the smackdown on Kennedy and the comparison some have made of Kennedy and Sarah Palin. Wurtzel also puts the kibosh on Lisa Belkin’s notion that Kennedy is just another mommy-tracker trying to opt back in:
It is, simply, impossible to take a timeout to raise kids and still compete in a man’s world.
Palin, to her credit, understood this. After a couple of days of maternity leave when her special-needs baby was born last year, she was back in Anchorage, running Alaska. Powerful female friends of mine with kids who maintain a high position in a man’s world all did the same thing: brief leave and back to the grinder; they didn’t want office politics and the forward propulsion of time itself—time the avenger—to put them out to pasture. For all the crap talk of “choice feminism”—whatever the hell that means—we are never going to feminize the world. Women who want to succeed pretty much have to work as long and as hard as men typically do, and that’s that. What does Kennedy know of this hellishness? She hasn’t held a paid position since her children were born, nor did she have a proper job even before that.
Kennedy is entering the political fray under exceptional circumstances: she’s a former first daughter, and her family functions as American royalty. No other women with less blue blood could even attempt to get away with what she seems to in fact be getting away with. This is not sexism; this is reality.
Hillary Clinton, even with her upper middle-class Chicago childhood and her degrees from Wellesley and Yale, just doesn’t cut it as an aristocrat like to-the-mannermanor-born Kennedy. Her ambition, her energy, her skills–how terribly middle class, or worse, grasping. I’m reminded of a great essay by Ann DuCille in a collection called Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case (1997). In her essay, “The Unbearable Darkness of Being: ‘Fresh’ Thoughts on Race, Sex, and the Simpsons,” DuCille writes about what she calls the “browning of [Simpson's] white ex-wife, Nicole:”
Like many who followed and commented on the trial, I have been known to speculate that had the murder victim been the black ex-wife instead of the white one, there would have been far less media attention and public fascination. Here, I want to advance a rather different theory: I want to argue the relative irrelevance of Nicole Simpson as a white woman. I want to suggest that although her marriage to a black man in possession of a great fortune elevated her social and economic standing, it also blackened her and robbed her of any true claim to the cult of true white womanhood or to favorite-daughter status (p. 296).
Just as Nicole Simpson was “browned” by her marriage to O.J., perhaps Hillary Clinton was similarly (white) “trashed” by her marriage to Bill, the fatherless boy from Arkansas, and the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency elicited the same disgust the Villagers have for non-aristocrats who are nevertheless popular and successful. (Especially if they’re popular and successful!) Although Caroline Kennedy married a Member of the Tribe, her blood connections are overpoweringly dominant, and moreover are signaled by the fact that she never took her husband’s name. Hillary Clinton–well, one of her big problems was always that she was a Clinton, right? And what kind of North side of Chicago and Wellesley girl would let herself fall for trash like Bill Clinton?
(For some reason, I can’t find my copy of Birth of a Nation’hood–if any of you reading out there borrowed it from me, can I have it back, please?)