ABOUT A YEAR AGO, Neil Diamond finally revealed the inspiration for his song "Sweet Caroline." He of the impressive sideburns said that it was while looking at a picture of Caroline Kennedy in the '60s that he was moved to write his signature song.
Aside from the slightly creepy aspect of a grown man taking a prepubescent teen as his muse (although Dante did some mean stuff with his own Beatrice), it reminded all of us just how important the Kennedy family was - and is - to the modern American psyche. While I was never inspired to dedicate anything to Jackie's kid, I was always aware of her presence on the periphery of my consciousness. Unlike Grace Kelly's blue-blooded Caroline, Princess Kennedy seemed to be more approachable, more intelligent, and generally nicer.
Sweet. Yeah, that fit.
But I never actually knew what she did, much less who she was. She went to Radcliffe. As a graduate of a Seven Sisters college myself, I appreciated that. And then she went to Columbia and got a law degree, which she never used. I have a law degree too, although not from an Ivy League school. Still, I actually use mine, so I thought that somewhat equalized our positions. Then she co-wrote two very good books about the Constitution, which I read and appreciated. And in between, she got married to a man who was as quiet and unassuming as her uncles and cousins were not, which made me admire her desire to flee the limelight.
So I always liked Caroline Kennedy, even though I didn't hold her relatives in the highest esteem.
But now, Caroline wants to reclaim her birthright. What is that, you ask? Can you really be asking? I mean, doesn't every Kennedy have, as a part of his DNA, the desire to enter politics? Sure, there are those few members of the mythical breed who avoided the family business, in much the way you have Mafia children who become cops, or royalty who marry commoners. There was William Kennedy Smith, med student and erstwhile criminal defendant. There was even Caroline's baby brother John Jr., who went first into law and then into publishing before his tragic death.
But after years of fleeing the limelight, Caroline now wants in. And she has apparently gone to New York Gov. Paterson to tell him about her Christmas wish list. It includes the Senate seat Hillary Clinton is vacating.
Jackie's daughter has little to no qualifications for this level of public office. She is clearly a smart woman, a published author. She has raised lots of money for lots of worthy causes. And she is the last tangible vestige of a man who changed the world with his oratory and dreams.
But where in any of this do we see the ability to legislate? What in any of this gives us an assurance that she understands New York outside of her Manhattan bubble? How from any of this can we know she isn't just trying to deal with a mid-life crisis, using her storied name to buy something to which she is otherwise not entitled?
And that's the central issue. "Entitlement" has always been an aspect of the Kennedy myth. Because its members have sacrificed so much in terms of blood and service, they have been given somewhat of a free pass when it comes to the benefits of privilege. When her uncle Teddy left a young woman to drown at Chappaquiddick instead of immediately notifying police, he received a slap on the wrist. Yes, he lost the presidency, forever. But his grip on the Massachusetts Senate seat is viselike.
When Joe Kennedy decided to divorce his first wife Sheila and get an annulment over her and her children's objections, the church caved. (It has since reversed itself.)
These are a few examples of the parallel world the Kennedys inhabit. And that is not, generally, Caroline's world. She has always conducted herself with grace and competence, making her cousins and the various other adults in her orbit look small by comparison.
But is it enough to catapult her into our Senate? Hardly.
Which brings to mind another '60s song, one which someone might want to sing to Sweet Caroline:
"You Can't Always Get What You Want." *
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.