Kennedy: Being Senator Is Not A Play Thing

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[Commentary: On Kenendy As New York Senator]

She has her eyes full of Christmas, but does she know who the gift belongs too?

Caroline Kennedy, the sole survivor of the cherished First Family of America of the Sixties White House has deigned to offer her services to the state of New York and by the imperial esteem felt by the Empire State to the 50 states of the United States and the manifest destiny that began with the seizure of indigenous "Indian lands" by Christopher Columbus in 1492 to the global savage lands in need of taming.

The office she seeks: United States Senator.

She seeks not to run for the office, however, as did her father John Fitzgerald Kennedy, her uncles, Edward Moore, and Robert Fitzgerald did –in races not quite equal with wealth and power propelling them from the starting pistols—but to be seated on a throne carved from sinecure.

If one had the foresight to manufacture a Christmas doll that depicted Ms. Kennedy-Schlossberg, it should show a blonde icon with a scepter in her hand ready to greet the purchased patrons of her largesse.

The tragedy in this naïve nativity is that it would be displayed just a few days after Watch Night, a tradition started in the African-American church to celebrate the First of January. Members of Black churches across the country begin the night by praying—but at the stroke of midnight they do something their ancestors prayed for in dark nights of suffering and solitude—they get off their knees.

The historic reason for their rising is etched in New Year’s Eve of 1862 when abolitionists prayed that President Abraham Lincoln would keep his promise to sign the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Lincoln did, but in keeping with the manipulation which has characterized the sleight of hand that Ms. Kennedy’s relatives and other U.S. "liberals" have mastered for centuries, it was a largely symbolic gesture since the Proclamation only.

The proclamation did not free any slaves of the border states –Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia or any southern state—or part of a state already under Union control. The celebrated proclamation was thus only used to further the war time goals of the Union army. The poor slaves had to just wait until the war was won before achieving their freedom in reality.

In a direct continuation of this evasive tradition, Ms. Kennedy has failed to state concrete positions on many international and national issues at these critical junctures of our times. Even though the appointment would only last through 2010, a compassionate, committed voice could serve as beacon for others in the two houses of the national legislature.

For example, several days ago, a dentist in Gaza wept over the shattered dead body of his doctor friend who was wounded by an Israeli missile in the so-called "surgical strike" targeting of Hamas terrorists.

The doctor was in an ambulance speeding to help victims. Islamic partisans all over the world have sworn themselves to avenge the deaths of the innocents in Palestine. A committed voice in the United States Senate could do much to deal with the loss of credibility suffered with the unilateral support presently being granted to the Israeli attacks by President-elect Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Tragically, one of Ms. Kennedy’s uncles, Robert F. Kennedy, a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate lost his life in 1968 at the hands of a Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan, whose motives analysts have attributed to deep personal frustration at U.S. support for Israel and a profound animus that few others at the time in the U.S. shared.

Although Sirhan Sirhan belonged to no identifiable group, this personal history should encourage Ms. Kennedy to speak to compliance with the United Nations Charter and other international law, violations of which are inherent in Israel’s destructive energies which have resulted in approximately 100 Palestinian deaths for each one death in Israel’s borders.

Ms. Kennedy spoke of her reticence to speak with definition on crucial issues in a New York Times interview on December 28 by postulating, "To pick out the most controversial one as a stand alone thing, I don’t think that’s really to way to go about this—People can vote: it’ll be really interesting to see what happens. There’s a lot of experimentation going on in the country that we should pay attention to."

Experimentation? Does that include the shelling out of billions of dollars to banks which have shown no propensity to account for the money’s posting or destination? Does that include the recent decision by many states to curtail Medicare payments for many procedures as cost cutting measures?

The propensity to wait for popular sentiment to dictate crucial votes and postures stands as stark repudiation of the standards of service established by Kennedy’s father in his Pulitzer-prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, which ranked high on the best seller lists throughout 1956.

The book examines the careers of more than 10 members of the U.S. Senate, ranging from John Quincy Adams to Robert Taft. All these members sacrificed popularity and endured scorn and defamation of their characters and in some cases witnessed the demise of their political careers for the sake of taking unpopular stances for principled causes on matters of public concern.

In memory of these lives, the Kennedy family has endowed an annual John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Essay Contest which encourages high school students to write an original essay about an elected official who has demonstrated political courage. Caroline Kennedy usually is one of the presenters of the award.

The 2008 winner of the contest, Laura Shapiro, tells the inspiring story of Judge Pamela Alexander, a judge in Minnesota who felt that the disparity in the laws governing the possession of crack cocaine and powder cocaine were grossly unfair—up to 10 grams of powder cocaine resulted in a sentence of 5 years at the most; while possession of three grams of crack cocaine could by Minnesota law lead to a sentence of 20 years.

Judge Alexander agreed with the defense argument that the sentencing guidelines were racially biased since defendants accused of possession of crack cocaine was 92% Black, while 85% of those accused of having powder cocaine were white.

The following year the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Judge Alexander’s decision. But the Judge’s career suffered mightily. Despite Senator Paul Wellstone’s nomination of Alexander as a U.S. District Court judge, the Clinton administration refused to push the nomination of a judge some felt was "soft" on crime. Judge Alexander never reached the federal bench.

If one wishes to look for a model of a female legislator who stood firm in the face of all obstacles, one needs to look only to South Africa which bid farewell yesterday to Helen Suzman, who died at age 91; she was an international human rights activist who was the Progressive Party’s only representative in the all-white Parliament while some of the most repressive instrument of apartheid were being devised.

She didn’t just talk the talk, she actually braved the cold waters surrounding Robben Island to visit Nelson Mandela in prison many times. Imagine the impact of our state and nation if we had a Senator willing to visit the many innocent and perhaps not so innocent men and women in prison to show them that we are a nation of compassion which has not forgotten them.

Caroline Kennedy often cites her writing as one of her qualifications for the office she covets. One of her books is called A Family Christmas, a collection of essays that recounts the memory of her father’s letting her use the White House switchboard to call Santa Claus.

But what our nation needs now is not a man coming down a chimney, but a magnitude of people with eyes not blocked by bricks but emblazoned with courage, and vision soaring with new horizons to lift us up in our basements of need. We want to rise off our knees and get to building before it’s too late.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy anticipated the dilemma of being a Senator when he wrote, of senators, in Profiles was that "when that roll is called, he cannot hide, he cannot equivocate; he cannot delay—and he senses that his constituency, like the Raven in Poe’s poem is perceived there on his Senate desk, croaking ‘nevermore’ as he casts the vote that stakes his political future."

Santa Claus isn’t on that desk Caroline.

But look and call to the future in the teenage girl who wrote of a courageous Judge and look to the past in the rocking boat of a woman who went to the stones of a South African prison island to see a man who was scorned as the worse of the terrorists, and you will be guided and pushed by the present and the past.

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