dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

"Mutilation"

Leon Wieseltiersays Happy Chanukah toMayor 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.

Penns moonlighting shows a kind of contempt for journalism, which turns out to be rather difficult to do well. It also shows that hes missed one of the main points of Obamas 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 dont get to be journalists, tooa 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 Penns 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 dont necessarily make good politicians themselves. Politics demands certain skills honed by experience, just as journalism does, just as acting does. Ill make a deal with Sean Penn and Caroline Kennedy: you two stick to what you do well, and Ill stay off the big screen and withdraw from consideration by Governor Paterson.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Matthew,thanks for calling attention to this. I can only add a non-sectarian "Amen" to the points made in the portion of the column that you cited. The Kennedy power-play is as obscene as Governor B's cruder efforts.But reading the whole, I also share Philadelphia Dave's sentiment in the comments on TNR site:"Nice touch of the common man, using the F word. Shows you're one of us. Somehow my library fails to include a first edition of Sefer Hasidim, Bologna 1538. I am tiring of very important people."David in Philadelphia

Yes, Fr. Imbelli, that was a funny comment.Here I think the vulgarity of (the Illinois governor's) expression nicely amplifies the vulgarity of the sentiment. And of course Wieseltier is an elitist non pareil in one sense, but not in another: in this column he clearly uses the term to refer to members of the "financial class," or oligarchs.

A chastened Andrew Cuomo has laid low and low key after being accused of arrogance. Now he watches helplessly as Caroline gets momentum. There are certainly many more qualified women and Caroline Kennedy does bring the bar down. She has a huge amount of money and that is driving this show along with the Kennedy recognition. This is hubris however philanthropic she has been. And she is more an old style woman than one who understands the basics in women's advancement. She should not prevail.I lean toward favoring a woman as you can guess. But I sympathize with Andrew. He has been willing to learn and has worked hard to remake himself.

I also liked Gail Collins this week on the nature of New York politics (though she is, in the end, more sanguine about the Caroline option):

It is a tribute to the raging mediocrity of New York politics that while many people have expressed reservations about giving the Senate job to an untested, hitherto publicity-shy political novice, their protests often wind up with: Why pick Caroline Kennedy when we could have um ...

Matthew,it wasn't so much the "bleep," it was the "Bologna 1538" that got to me.Mollie,"we could have - um ... Sydney Callahan!"

If Barack Obama offers Caroline an ambassadorship--say to the Vatican, or Ireland, maybe she'd give up the silly idea of replacing her uncle (albeit the next state over) as THE Kennedy in the Senate. Then, Andrew Cuomo can duke it out with everyone else.And the ridiculous sitatution with Bloomberg and term limits is that term limits are a ridiculous idea in the first place. Without term limits, he could have had a third term without opprobrium by simply getting re-elected, which I think he would. Alas, his buddy Mr. Lauder, and perhaps he himself, was a major supporter of this very undemocratic idea; the best term limit is not getting re-elected by the voters.

".....term limits are a ridiculous idea in the first place."Peggy, who would have thunk it that you would hold so? People need term limits to wrest themselves from their comfort zones . Certain morning shows do specific actions at a set hour. Legions of people in the audience cry foul if there is any diversion as people pace themselves as they prepare to exit for work. The Catholic church, of all people, has term limits for their pastors. They know the danger. Trouble is the bishops won't accept it. Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton would have been around longer were the rule not there. France seems to have survived without De Gaulle.When Chaney says that the public will must be ignored and left for a wiseman such as he, he is reflecting the general apathy that wants to be led.....until they can't buy food nor houses.

I do not have the exact reference but the late Cardinal Dulles cited Paul VI, saying that our discussions must avoid vulgarity. It debases the discussions.

Sometimes vulgar language is the least vulgar thing about a discussion, and can actually throw into relief the true vulgarity of a comment or issue. I think that may be what Wieseltier was getting at.Then again, St. Jerome and Dante were as "vulgar" as it gets. But maybe Paul Vi wasn't referring to them...

David G.--OK, I'll take the bait on this one. Are you referring to Jerome and his Vulgate Bible, written in the informal Latin known as "vulgar" to differentiate it from the more formal structures and vocabulary of classical Latin? Or do you mean that Jerome was given to using George Carlin's "seven words" in his speech and writing? Inquiring minds need to know. (If you had mixed "vulgar" with Chaucer, there'd be no confusion on my part. ;) )

This is for you, William Collier. Jerome in Power Point.http://www.biblical-literacy.com/lessons/CHL/slides/CHL28-St_Jerome_slid... Austin, get a grip. I am sure all those nudes in the Vatican would never be permitted in your house.

I'm packing my work office up and unpacking some work stuff at home--we're getting kicked out of our old building, and don't get into our new building until January 5. (I'm taking a whole suitcase full of used bubble wrap to New England for my 5 year old niece to pop--that's going to go over well, I'm sure!)At any rate, while packing dusty files, I have been amusing myself by thinking who would be an entertaining ambassador to the Vatican--I thought Maureen Dowd for a while, but now I am voting for Gail Collins. That was a great column, Mollie!

Why would Gail Collins give up freedom of speech? On the other hand, foregoing her freeedom of speech to represent the U.S. at the Vatican might well save Dowd's soul. But who can say?