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Sweet Caroline indeed

Caroline, it's not you...it's us. Okay?

Why, you might ask, does a parenting blogger care about the issue of Caroline Kennedy's recent foray into senatorial politics? The word is nepotism, my dears. Parents (except parents who are famous and/or well-connected) don't like nepotism, and, as times get tougher for all of us, especially our children, parents like it less and less.

Ms. Kennedy is obviously an accomplished lawyer, author and public-spirited soul. Yes, she evokes the grandeur of the JFK era. She can raise money. She came aboard the Barack juggernaut early and enthusiastically. She has, above all, name recognition. But didn't it occur to Ms. Kennedy or those around her that name recognition can be a liability as well as an asset? To politicos who need to raise money, name recognition is a boon. But to struggling folks who are terrified about their kids' prospects in a very competitive world, the question "Why should she get the job just because she is the daughter of a president?" is very real, and very compelling.

As a therapist who sees teenagers and their families, I am constantly made aware of parents' wishes to help their children get a leg up. Kids can get good grades, have stellar accomplishments and scintillating personalities, and still get rejected from top-flight colleges (not to mention the job world thereafter). If the parents are well connected, the kids have a better chance; we all know it, and few hesitate to use it. But the entire nation is still high from celebrating the up-from-nowhere victory of a man with a funny-sounding name, raised by his single mother, with no apparent advantages except mammoth quantities of intelligence, discipline and good old-fashioned grit, and with no obvious connections to anyone with name recognition. Does this sound like the time for anointing the relatives of the famous?

Why is this so difficult to understand? The punditocracy all seemed to be in Caroline's corner, and couldn't see why anyone wouldn't be. For example, Maureen Dowd in the New York Times (teetering precariously, as usual, somewhere between over-the-top snarkiness and certifiable insanity) was wild for the Kennedy bid, just as she is now snarling "Kirsten who?" about the new senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand. But the public was clearly, as opinion polls showed, less than wild for Caroline. The only commentator who seemed to be in touch with the public mood was Susan Dominus, in her "Big City" column in the Times. I am happy to let Ms. Dominus speak for herself (the italics are mine):

"Maybe [Kennedy] started to sense that this moment was not hers- that what people are really embracing, in the new president and his family, is the flat-out miracle of their rise through a meritocracy...The spectacle of the Obama's family success would be heartening at any point in history. But people probably never need to believe in the self-made man or woman more than when they're feeling broke and scared." Amen, Ms. Dominus, and, as someone who listens every day to the scared, I salute you.

We can still wonder why no other media types seemed to read the Zeitgeist correctly. But then, why should the well connected be aware of how the unconnected feel? I myself followed the Kennedy story in the papers and also on MSNBC. They're the outfit that hired Luke Russert right out of college to be on-air talent for a national network. By the way, does that name sound familiar?


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