Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Caroline Rising, Bernie Falling

The DNA of JFK; Great, But Why Can't the Voters Decide?

Fresh events transpire daily with regard to Caroline Kennedy’s campaign to become a United States Senator.

Yesterday we read that Kevin Sheekey is making calls on her behalf, which indicates that Kevin’s employer, Mayor Bloomberg, is part of the effort. This should not influence people as to the merits of her candidacy, but it will, especially if he can bring along the publishers, who went along with congestion pricing and the Charter coup at his request. Rupert Murdoch, who is no one’s pet, has indicated his support for Caroline.

There is an unspoken alliance based on friendship and empathy between most of the rich and famous. Unless one of them has injured another, or tangled over a mate or a business, wealthier and more important individuals tend to align with each other, particularly when upstarts are involved. Money, heredity and celebrity are the coin of the realm in many areas of life, and politics, although somewhat more open to newcomers, is no exception.

Bloomberg is the prime current example of the use of wealth in politics, not simply for his own campaigns, but for genuinely charitable purposes over many years, and for assisting political causes he favors (e.g. Senate Republicans). He has written the playbook for the use of personal resources in politics. What particularly irks some egalitarians is that he earned the money himself rather than marrying it (Kerry), inheriting it (the Rockefellers) or stealing it (Madoff).

Caroline Kennedy has a unique and extraordinary appeal to many New Yorkers. As the sole surviving child of a martyred President, she has been in our consciousness since she was an infant. She has conducted her life without scandal or conspicuous consumption. She married a man who was neither rich nor famous, and who used to be Jewish. Through her 51 years, we have never heard a bad word about her, which is in contrast to a number of her cousins and one of her uncles. She chose not to participate in public life, which is understandable since it killed her father and her uncle Robert, both of whom left small children to be raised by their mothers.

What does she know about public issues? As a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School, nothing she is not capable of learning. With her children nearly grown, she feels ready to enter public life. What about the other candidates, members of Congress from both upstate and downstate, a state-wide elected official who was a member of President Clinton’s cabinet, a union leader, a county executive, an upstate mayor? The answer is simple: let them run.

One problem with the Kennedy candidacy as it develops a top-down identity through prominent supporters (Bloomberg, Koch, Rupert Murdoch) is that the choice of a United States Senator should be made by the people of the state, not by the one man who has the legal power to make the appointment.

Governor Paterson will appoint someone to serve for two years. The period for which one could be appointed used to be one year, until the next election, but that law was made by the Republican legislature after the 1949 Senate election, which was manipulated to coincide with a New York City mayoral election which would bring out the downstate vote, largely Democratic. In the ’49 race, former Governor Herbert Lehman defeated John Foster Dulles, who in 1953 became President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State while his brother Allen headed the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Senate vacancy was caused by the timely retirement of Robert F. Wagner, Sr., who had not sat in the Senate for years because of strokes. BTW, you may or may not have read that Dulles’ son, Avery Cardinal Dulles, an eminent theologian, just passed away at 90.

If Caroline Kennedy had only one qualification, the DNA of JFK, she should be taken seriously. Although she cannot claim to have influenced public policy while she lived in the White House, as Senator Clinton does, the fact that she lived there with her eminent parents is certainly helpful. In fact, she has more to offer than pedigree.

However, her father and her two uncles won public office the old fashioned way; they were elected. JFK had served three terms in the House before he was elected Senator in 1952. Robert Kennedy had been Attorney General of the United States before his election in 1964. Her uncle Teddy, who had been an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, had to wait until he turned 30 to be elected in 1962, so a caretaker, Benjamin Smith, was appointed to fill JFK’s seat.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan never held elective office before he ran and won the Senate seat in 1976. He had been defeated in the 1965 Democratic primary for President of the City Council. He had, however, served four Presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford) in subcabinet positions.

It is reasonable in New York to appoint a highly qualified person (who will not seek election in 2010) if one wants to hold the seat for a free and fair competition in a Democratic primary. It is unjust to single out a particular individual, no matter how well known, who has never held public office, elective or appointive, and has no public record on the issues of our time. Why should one person be singled out on the basis of celebrity, while others in Congress who are qualified are denied the opportunity to compete.

We believe it will be helpful and enlightening for Ms. Kennedy to spend some real time traveling the 62 counties of the State of New York, meeting people and learning about the problems of what has been called the emerging Appalachia.. She would have the chance to meet with experts to become totally familiar with public issues, which it is certain she would grasp. She has the potential to be an excellent United States Senator from New York and she will be a national figure the day she takes her Senate seat. Fortunately, it will be at least five years before she runs for President, which she may well do.

It would be unfair, however, for anyone to obtain the appointment through a closed process resulting in a decision by one man. The Democratic Party should be able to devise a process - perhaps a state convention - to make a recommendation to the governor. The party could want its senator to have a two-year incumbency before being challenged by a Republican. That is not unreasonable..

We have just a couple of questions to ask you on this topic. If you care to, please e-mail your answers on the subject line of this article.

1) The appointment of Caroline Kennedy to Hillary Clinton’s (formerly Pat Moynihan’s) senate seat is:

a) inevitable

b) unfortunate

c) both

d) neither

2) The principal people adversely affected by her entry into public life are:

a) Hillary Clinton, whom she would oppose for President in 2016, having completed eight years as the junior Senator from New York, a period equal to what Hillary will have served and twice as long as Obama’s four years on Capitol Hill.

b) David Paterson, who, cut off from Washington, will have to stay in Albany until someone picks him off, possibly a person he failed to appoint to the Senate seat despite his considerable qualifications and demonstrated popularity..

c) Andrew Cuomo, who will have to build a relationship with his ex-wife’s first cousin, not to mention compete for attention in a political universe where President’s daughter tops Governor’s son and experience doesn’t count all that much.

d) Chuck Schumer, senior senator from New York, who despite his best efforts, will again be less well known than his junior colleague, unless and until she attains higher office, and another junior senator is elected or appointed, except if Ms. Kennedy’s successor, possibly chosen by Governor Cuomo, is Chelsea Clinton,

e) all of the above

f) none of the above

You can choose as many answers as you like to Question 2. If you think of others who would be adversely impacted (e.g. the non-appointed competitors for the seat) let us know who you think they are.

A Shande for the Goyim - Make Sure He Stays Alive

1) In one paragraph in Tuesday’s column about this master of deception, we mistakenly called him Abraham Madoff. That may have been a Freudian slip. He is cousin Bernie, not uncle Abe. He is certainly not Honest Abe.

2) The press reported that as a young man he was a lifeguard. The Daily News said “he earned $5000 as a Rockaway lifeguard nearly a half century ago”. That was much more than Parks paid back in the 1950’s. He may have worked for a private club in nearby Atlantic Beach or Lido Beach, serving the Five Towns, where a handsome, affable young lifeguard or cabana boy could earn tips.

2) Just as Jews take particular pride in the achievements of other Jews, they feel ashamed when one sins. People have written us expressing their pain at this aspect of the Madoff case. Fortunately or not, many of his victims appear to have been his co-religionists. We are sorry for all the people, and especially the charities, who were his victims. Although the case has amusing aspects in with regard to rich people being outwitted and swindled, many middle-class people lost their life savings

3) If there is an institutional villain here, it is the sleeping Securities and Exchange Commission, whose first chairman was Caroline’s grandfather. Chairman Cox appears to have acknowledged this failure immediately, accepting responsibility, and ordering a full investigation. When a complainant writes to a regulatory agency with direct and specific knowledge of a fraud, it is unconscionable for the agency to fail to look into the matter thoroughly. That is apparently what happened in this case. The Eric Swanson - Shana Madoff connection, in which the SEC regulator met and married the swindler’s niece, who was also compliance officer in the family firm, deserves a complete airing. The pair should be asked the Watergate question, under oath: “What did you know, and when and how did you get to know it?”

4) There were so many hints of wrongdoing in this case it is incredible that the regulators did not follow up on any of them. The one that particularly sticks in our craw is the fact that this multi-billion dollar fund was overseen by an unknown accountant in New City, the Orthodox capital (and county seat) of suburban Rockland County. This monstrous fraud could not have been perpetrated by one man, working alone, no matter how clever and devious he may have been. Madoff’s accomplices, whoever they may turn out to be, should be brought to justice.

5) The risk of freeing Madoff on bail is not that he will flee the country, but that he will kill himself. Although we hope he does not do that, we think it is a real possibility. Remember Donald Manes. It would be a greater penalty for him to watch the destruction of his artificial universe than to escape earth and seek forgiveness from his Maker. He was known to be charitable. An ankle-bracelet and a curfew will prevent flight and night clubbing, but will not keep him from sleeping pills or, as Dorothy Parker wrote, “rope, razor or revolver”. We want him alive, if only to learn how he did it, who helped him, and how other frauds like this can be prevented.

6) This monstrous fraud could not have been perpetrated by one man working alone, no matter how clever he was. Madoff’s accomplices, whoever they are, should be brought to justice.

7) The risk of letting Madoff out on bail is not that he will flee the country, but that he will commit suicide. Although we do not encourage that, and he is not one of our regular readers, we think it is a real possibility. We think it would be a greater penalty for him to watch the destruction of his empire than to escape into the next world.

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