First, read Ross Douthat’s take on Caroline Kennedy as potential senator–there’s a lot to agree with in there about the dangers of dynastic politics. There are things about Kennedy that I don’t know that could matter–how much of the books she co-wrote on the bill of rights and the right to privacy are her own work? How good are they? But taking the most charitable interpretation, she just comes off as someone who would make an ok senator. Nothing in there suggests that she would have ever been considered if not for her name, a fact which is implicitly conceded by Ruth Marcus’s fulsome argument in favor of Kennedy.
But Douthat stretches when he tries for a clever comparison:
Here’s a more provocative way of thinking about it. Caroline Kennedy is no doubt more prepared – in terms of her base of knowledge about national politics, her comfort with the ways of Washington, etc. – to be a United States Senator than Sarah Palin was to be Vice President. But if you consider where the two women started and stack their subsequent accomplishments against one another, Palin’s Alaskan career is roughly six times more impressive than Kennedy’s years as a high-minded Manhattan socialite and custodian of her family’s good name. That doesn’t mean that McCain was wise to pick Palin as his running mate. But if you think he wasn’t, then you should definitely hope that the Democratic Party of New York hunts a little longer through its ranks before handing a Senate seat to the editor of The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I grant the point about the comparative impressiveness of Palin’s accomplishments. But once Douthat acknowledges that Kennedy would be more prepared to be senator, what is there that’s left to argue? Obviously we’re affected by how impressive someone’s achievements were (see Obama’s rapid climb), but the merit of a candidate is determined by whether they can provide results in office.