Leon Wieseltier says Happy Chanukah to Mayor Bloomberg — and Merry Christmas to Caroline Kennedy.
I can almost not imagine a more obvious mutilation of the meritocratic ideal than the appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the United State Senate. A Senate seat is a fucking valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing. But of course it will not be given away for nothing: the princess and her family will be delighted to pay for it. Ever since this democratic indignity was broached, the really smart talking point has been that she has the money for her eventual campaigns. In Michael Bloomberg’s city, this is all you need to know. After all, the next mayoralty of New York will have been decided over breakfast by two billionaires who have their respective uses for term limits and the strategic manipulation of them. Bloomberg appears to regard term limits as an unwarranted governmental interference in a free market: no sooner did he announce that he would prefer not to relinquish his rule than he let it be known that he will spend $80 million on his campaign. If his record in office is so sterling, why does he have to buy it back? More important, when will the authority in American life of the oligarchy of Manhattan finally come to an end? The wantonness of their capitalism was widespread and systematic, and it injured millions of lives. A society may be measured by whom it admires. No class of Americans has done more to damage America than the financial class. A generalization is an ugly thing, but every day’s newspaper refreshes my impression that the titans, the insiders, the big players, the boldfacers, the movers and the shakers — the hoshover menschen, as we say where I come from — have been, many of them, fools or thieves.
Read the whole column here.
UPDATE: Over at his New Yorker blog, “Interesting Times,” George Packer makes his own case against appointing Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton. He compares this to Sean Penn’s adventures as a journalist, most recently in Cuba.
Penn’s moonlighting shows a kind of contempt for journalism, which turns out to be rather difficult to do well. It also shows that he’s missed one of the main points of Obama’s election, which has Penn shedding tears at the end of his dispatch. Obama is the splendid fruit of a meritocracy. In a meritocracy, actors who act well get good roles. They don’t get to be journalists, too—a job that, in a meritocracy, should go to those who do journalism well. Nor should any journalist, however accomplished, expect to land a leading part in Penn’s next movie.
Nor should anyone expect to be appointed U.S. senator on the grounds of being the daughter of a revered President. We have at least learned that the offspring of Presidents don’t necessarily make good politicians themselves. Politics demands certain skills honed by experience, just as journalism does, just as acting does. I’ll make a deal with Sean Penn and Caroline Kennedy: you two stick to what you do well, and I’ll stay off the big screen and withdraw from consideration by Governor Paterson.