Caroline, we hardly you knowed ye. Or, as Tom Lehrer might have said, that was the week that was.
We witnessed a) the concluding moment of one political dynasty (the Bushes); b) a near death moment of the spear-carrier of another political dynasty (the Kennedys); as well as c) the meltdown of a successor to that dynasty (Caroline); and d) the perpetuation of the Clinton dynasty. My head is still spinning. I keep scanning the newspapers to see if there was some Gen-6 Roosevelt drama going on, too.
There was a certain symmetry—karma?—to Caroline Kennedy’s not getting the Senate seat vacated by the woman whose opponent she endorsed for president last January. I’ve not seen any public comment by Hillary about Kennedy’s Chinese fire drill, but one might discern, beneath that Cheshire smile she’s been wearing over at State, a soupçon of Schadenfreude. How could it be otherwise?
There was a certain symmetry—karma?—to Caroline Kennedy’s not getting the Senate seat vacated by the woman whose opponent she endorsed for president last January.
Larissa MacFarquhar has an excellent, zillion-word piece in the current New Yorker about Kennedy. It leaves out only the actual reason for her abrupt, 11th-hour volte-face. I don’t know the reason myself, and I don’t particularly want to know, but doubtless the sucker-fish of the New York Post and Daily News are on the case and in due course we will be informed.
It seems improbable, at any rate, that she was disqualified by virtue of a 15-year-old $600 unpaid tax lien or some nanny issue. If that surmise is correct, then the feminist shrieking about the double standard of ignoring Timothy Geithner’s much grosser tax problems while ushering him up the red carpet to his new Treasury office, in this, the winter of our red ink, seems rather beside the point.
They have this in common, though: Kennedy said “you know” 200 times in 30 minutes; Geithner used the word “mistake” 41 times at his hearings. Let’s hope we won’t be hearing him use the word so much in the years ahead. And let us wish Kennedy well. History dealt her both the silver spoon and great tragedy, and she has borne both with becoming grace and, up to a point, modesty.
As for the other dynasties that were on stage last week: That was a poignant moment, watching George Herbert Walker Bush walk on his cane through the Capitol, on his way to the platform. It’s been said that Bush has been 65 years old now for 20 years, and has finally reached his 80s. Did you notice that he winked and grinned and lightly whacked the young military woman standing ceremonial guard in the hallway? That’s George Bush: kind, gentle, and frisky, even in his dotage. She’ll be telling her grandchildren that the 41st president of the United States whacked her in the tummy the day Barack Obama was sworn in.
I reflect that Bush’s father worked in that building; that he himself worked in the Capitol; and that he was now seeing his son step down from the presidency that he himself once occupied. Given how it all played out, this cannot have been an occasion for him of unalloyed joy. Though I have been no fan of the late administration, I winced at the boos that greeted 41’s son. But George H.W. Bush is a man of capacious and unconditional love, so I imagine that carried him through the day. (Am I starting to sound like Peggy Noonan?)
Oh, well: The last time a dynasty ended in that building, it did so rather literally, in 1848, when John Quincy Adams, protesting a motion to honor US Army officers in the Mexican War, collapsed of a cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the House of Representatives, and died two days later in the speaker’s office. I confess that when Senator Ted Kennedy was stricken during the lunch, the thought crossed my mind that it would be quite a way for him to go: another one for the history books.
Finally, the Clintons. Who was it said there are no second acts in American lives? F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of a 1921 short story that’s just been turned into a very long movie that may sweep this year’s Oscars. Fitzgerald, would you care to revise your prior statement?
The Clintons are back! Deal with it! But as Geithner would say, make no mistake: This is going to be, Caroline Kennedy would say, you know, interesting.
Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. His journalism, satire, and criticism has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Esquire. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes FYI.