January
11th 2009
Kennedy’s friends (and ponies) speak, so she doesn’t have to

Posted under: American history, class, Gender, Intersectionality, women's history

From an AP article published in the Denver Post online yesterday about La Dauphine (which, interestingly enough, didn’t make the cut of stories published in the paper edition this morning):

In a series of interviews with The Associated Press, friends and colleagues of [Caroline] Kennedy painted a picture of a reserved but intelligent and tenacious woman who writes her own speeches and who, despite her vast wealth, still takes the subway.

Those interviewed did not provide an impartial view — but, with several speaking publicly for the first time about their relationship, they offered a rare look inside the private world of a woman America fell in love with decades ago as she rode her pony over the White House lawn.

Yes, because this is America, where we choose our leaders on the basis of cute photo-ops of their overprivileged childhoods.  Sources say Kennedy, despite her vast wealth, eats food and craps, just like regular folks.  (Not on the subway, we hope!)  What’s with the extra creditKennedy gets for being a normal, functioning adult?  Because she’s still alive and sober, she gets a prize?  Don’t believe me?  Well, here’s the one example of Kennedy’s mad political skillz that her very best friends could come up with: 

When community groups and the Board of Education were caught in an acrimonious dispute over an arts program, education officials brought in a fixer: Caroline Kennedy.

The daughter of a president and niece of two senators listened attentively, asked probing questions and proposed various scenarios to resolve the dispute. Under her prompting, a compromise was reached.

“People were pushing themselves back from the table and folding their arms,” recalled Stephanie Dua, chief executive officer of the Fund for Public Schools. “She was very good at defusing the situation. … She has a very easy style about her but she’s very sharp.”

Wow!  Kennedy, despite her vast wealth, did what any normal person would do!  She listened!  She asked questions!  ZOMG she proposed various scenarios to resolve the dispute!  (Wouldn’t pretty much any person of her age, education, and exposure to the world have managed to do that pretty well?  Don’t you do that all the time with friends and co-workers?)  Friends also report, as evidence of Kennedy’s incredibly deep engagement in politics, that she watched the vice-presidential debates last fall with friends.  (Wow!  I should have put that on my application to be the next U.S. Senator from Colorado!  I watched all of the presidential and vice-presidential debates–where’s my Senate seat?)

The fawning attention and praise lavished on Kennedy by New York political elites–if not by all media outlets–is certainly due to class privilege, as Sarah Palin suggested last week, but it’s also due to her gender performances as well.  As the same AP article reports,

Kennedy had her first daughter, Rose, around the same time she graduated from Columbia [Law] in 1988, and her professional life took shape around her children.

When [friend and co-author] Ellen Alderman became pregnant, she recalls, Kennedy became her “mommy mentor,” showing her what she needed to pack a diaper bag, and giving her advice on work: “You can still do it, you’re just not going to have eight, 10, 12 hours at a time,” Alderman recalls her saying.

Kennedy had help around the house, but she never delegated parenting (Ed. note:  not according to Dr. Laura!)— picking her three kids up from school and knowing who their friends were and where they were, said Esther Newberg, her friend and literary agent. Kennedy joined the board at her children’s school, and colleagues said she’d never attend a meeting if it meant missing a recital or another such event.

So, normal, so traditionally feminine, so insulated from the economics that most women face!  Also, so unlike those monstrously ambitious, grasping other political women who would do anything to win (and yet lost both their races this year, somehow), Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.  I mean, how tacky:  to treat politics like it’s your job, instead of a genteel hobby?  The article continues:

Compared to the sharp-elbowed style common among New York politicians, Kennedy’s personality in a series of recent media interviews has seemed quiet, soft-spoken.

But those who have worked with Kennedy said her sometimes-reserved demeanor could be misleading. More than one spoke of an instance where they had watched her listen carefully to each person’s point of view, then argue her point calmly but tenaciously until she achieved her goal.

“If you aren’t as loud as I am, often people mistake that for not being effective and that’s just wrong,” said Elaine Jones, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where Kennedy served on the board. “I know how able, substantive and tough-minded Caroline is. Now others have got to see that in her. And she may have to project it.” While she never practiced law, Kennedy did heavy-duty research before board meetings and contributed to detailed legal debates over which cases would be selected by the NAACP fund, Jones said.

Oh, but Ms. Jones:  no one named Kennedy needs to speak loudly, especially not the Kennedys of this particular branch, when most Americans over the age of fifty remember those cute prancing ponies on the White House lawn.  No one in this family even need speak–apparently they have “people” to do that for them, too.

9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Kennedy’s friends (and ponies) speak, so she doesn’t have to”

  1. Emma on 11 Jan 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Clearly Kennedy is a product of the Democrats’ contempt for women. Ask John McCain and Sarah Palin what picking a patently unqualified woman for high public office MUST mean.

    Of course, Palin wasn’t patently unqualified to run for VP (being the democratically elected governor of a state) nor was she picked to appeal to women (it’s pretty clear she was picked to bring the right-wing christians on board which she did admirably). And, of course, Kennedy isn’t patently unqualifed to RUN for the Senate (a point Historiann made very well, IMO) nor is Kennedy being picked to appeal to women (she’s clearly being picked so that there’s at least one Kennedy in the Senate after Ted dies and to continue the welding of the Kennedy myth to Obama).

    But, hey, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: I think both the Republicans and the Democrats have fundamental contempt for women and that Palin and Kennedy are symptoms of that disease.

  2. Historiann on 11 Jan 2009 at 11:09 am #

    Emma–I don’t totally agree that Kennedy is a product of the Dems “contempt for women.” I think that’s part of it–maybe she’s a symptom of how male Dems rarely even think about women at all, unless they’re unavoidably connected to a major family in American politics. Very few people have mentioned that Kennedy’s sex might be a mollifying factor in her candidacy–most have just focused on celebrity lineage. And as a woman who although a jobless mother was never on food stamps or AFDC, I don’t see her agenda as terribly woman-friendly. (What little of her agenda I can glean–she doesn’t feel the need to be super-specific, of course. She supports gay marriage–but what upper East-side Dem doesn’t?)

    I wrote a dissertation that was a study of patriarchy in marriage, family, and community politics in early New England, where almost everyone participated in marriage (unless they were profoundly disabled mentally or physically.) And then I took a lecturer position at a Catholic university, where there were many religious men on the faculty, and learned that there are men in this world for whom women are not a consideration in the least. Their discrimination against women came not out of animosity or resentment of women, rather, in their universe, women just didn’t exist in any ways they felt obligated to deal with. I’m starting to think that the Dem party takes women’s labor and votes for granted as much as some men in the Church do. We’re a critical constituency, but unless and until some of us are willing to make our support conditional, I don’t think we’re going to be treated like we matter.

  3. bruce nahin on 11 Jan 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Perhaps I am Machievellian but if Ck becomes US Senator…BHO will then throw HRC under the bus, and CK will become his heir apparant…HRC career will be over as she will havenot base of support( ie no Senate)

  4. Susan on 11 Jan 2009 at 6:50 pm #

    I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, like you I think it amazing how easily CK has moved from being an active community member (sitting on boards etc) to a serious candidate for US Senate. On the other hand, I think that it is good to have people who have not spent their lives gladhanding in politics: while CK in the situations described did what most normal people would do, it’s not in fact what most politicians do. And, you know, 8 years ago you could have written the same post about HRC: she moved to a state where she’d never lived in order to run for senate, and she was only a serious candidate because her husband had been president. Since then she has *definitely* done the hard work, so you respect her. And, if Patterson appoints her, maybe Kennedy will too. But whoever goes to the Senate from NY will be appointed, and then they will have to run for the job.

    When I was growing up in NYC, I remember my mother coming home from work one day and saying that she’d been standing at the bus stop when she realized that the woman standing next to her was Jackie Kennedy. She was struck by the fact that Jackie, like my mother, had her bus fare inside her glove. . . New York is a public transportation town.

  5. Susan on 11 Jan 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Oh, and I totally agree that the great thing about CK for some men is that they don’t see her in the woman box.

  6. Historiann on 11 Jan 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    Susan, I agree in the main with what you say–and people did say the same things about Clinton 9 years ago before her run. My objection to Kennedy is not that she’s unqualified to RUN for the Senate–I think she should if it’s what she wants to do. My problem is with people (like Bennet in Colorado, and possibly Kennedy in NY) who are appointed to these plum gigs without ever having put themselves through the ordeal of a campaign, without ever having asked a fellow citizen for her vote, and without even revealing very much about hir agenda once installed. Kennedy appears to want to coast on her name and connections–what else does she bring? I can’t see it. It seems like a risk that the Governor and the party don’t need to take, given the deep Dem stable of talented pols in NY.

    And, as you can probably tell, it offends my sensibilities as a Democrat, a democrat, and a woman who works. I know that makes me so incredibly tacky–that I have to work to make my living–but that’s life for most of us. A man’s work is never held against him, but it’s held against women in general–proof that we’re not genteel “true women.”

    bruce–I wouldn’t worry about Clinton. She could get canned by Obama before the midterms, or at the end of his first term, but she knew the risks of being an appointee versus a junior Senator. I’m sure this suits her just fine, and unlike most middle-aged women these days, I won’t worry that she won’t have health insurance or won’t be able to pay the rent. Clinton has a constituency, but I don’t think she’s planning to run after Obama is done. It all depends on her job performance and his–but even presuming that he wins a second term, she’ll be nearly 70 in 2016, and in the past century, it’s been very difficult to win and have a successful presidency after one party has held the White House for 8 years. (See Al Gore, George H.W. Bush, and Richard Nixon in 1960, and Herbert Hoover, for example.) And, CK is already someone else’s heir!

  7. Emma on 12 Jan 2009 at 10:10 am #

    Emma–I don’t totally agree that Kennedy is a product of the Dems “contempt for women.” I think that’s part of it

    Oh, I agree with you. My first paragraph didn’t come off quite right, obviously. I think Palin was unjustly accused being solely the product of Republicans’ contempt for women — the “fungible woman” thing. So, I was drawing the parallel — if it’s true for Palin, it’s true for Kennedy. But I don’t think it’s true for either.

    So, my rhetorical skills need some work.

  8. Historiann on 12 Jan 2009 at 10:29 am #

    Oh–gotcha. Thanks for the clarification–I think you’re right. (And, once again, it shows how badly we need more women in politics, so that each one can be treated as an individual rather than bear the whole burden of representing womankind in her public life!)

  9. Satsuma on 18 Jan 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    Caroline Kennedy just is not a very bright woman. Have you ever seen any of her very rare interviews over the years? If you did, you would be shocked. They picked her for a couple of reasons 1) she can raise big bucks for the Democratic party 2) It could possibly be a round about pay back by the Obama group for her early support of Obama. That’s my educated guess.

    I don’t hold people’s social class against them, however, because she was born into this class. I was very angry that she had not supported Hillary Clinton for the presidency last year, and I was mystified as to why the Kennedys snubbed Hillary in the first place, since she was a very hard working Senator, who actually did campaign hard for real votes.

    It is true that in male dominated institutions, women are simply not known are cared about at all. Catholic universities, Jesuits, you name it. Democratic women have to really push the patriarchs to the wall and then some. Women’s labor is used by both parties. Think Phyllis Schlafly being snubbed for a cabinet post in the Reagan administration, for example. Had she been a man with those credentials, she would have been secretary of defense in an Arizona minute!

    It’s why I don’t support men running for office, because I know they don’t have access to women’s political, social and business networks. Male leaders continue to be tone deaf to women, and I don’t trust men, when I have a viable woman running for the very same job. I’ve been in a male dominated industry long enough to know how awful these guys really are. I guess women are fooled by the platitudes men lob their way– Obama being a prime example of this, by the way.

    There are plenty of very good women candidates for NY Senator. Caroline Kennedy is about payback– once again, woman as object to be controlled by wealthy male members of the “Kennedy patriarchal Klan.”

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