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My thoughts on the world around me

Caroline Kennedy Unfairly Treated Because She’s a Woman?

I wrote earlier today about Caroline Kennedy’s poorly managed run at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s empty Senate seat. I noted that her withdrawal was likely a disservice to women in politics.

There is a perception among numerous political insiders, however, that Ms. Kennedy was treated too harshly by the media and other politicians who questioned her credibility and demeanor. In fact, their contention is that she was treated much more critically than a man would have been.

There still exists a glass ceiling in politics. In the House, 75 of the 435 members are women. In the Senate, just 17 are women. Donna Brazile, a political analyst, made an important point:

Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents[.]

One thing is certain, the margin of error for a historically disadvantaged candidate (e.g. women, African-Americans) is much smaller. When David Axelrod came on board as President Barack Obama’s chief strategist for the campaign, Axelrod made it clear to Obama that he would have to be on his game at all times. When you try to break through old customs, it is imperative to not give anyone an excuse to vote for your opponent. Unfortunately, that is the state of politics today. We have made history by electing an African-American president, but that doesn’t mean that we, as a whole, won’t be more critical of a female or African-American candidate than we would of a white one.

Kennedy’s camp should have prepared her better. She could ill afford to appear weak or unprepared, particularly in the rough setting for politics that is New York. Had she known where all the blows were coming from, perhaps we would be writing about a different result today.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Media, Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Junior Senator From NY: Caroline, er, Kirsten Gillibrand

As reported in The Huffington Post, Kirsten Gillibrand will be taking over the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As for Caroline Kennedy, she really couldn’t have managed this situation more poorly.

Where She Went Wrong

She should never have courted Gov. Paterson publicly, or at least as publicly as she did. In the blink of an eye, she went from private figure/JFK’s daughter to Obama supporter to the future junior senator from New York. One day the media pundits are wondering whether she’ll make a run at the seat, and the next she’s already in upstate New York talking to the key players in New York politics. A bit fast? A bit too in your proverbial face?

She would have been wise to speak to Paterson privately, behind closed doors. There would have been less pressure on both of them, and it would have shown more political savvy. Her entrance onto the political stage was dramatic from the start, and now her political death makes for equally good theater.

The Withdrawal Effect

Caroline Kennedy’s withdrawal from the Senate seat is a disaster for women in politics. Even if people don’t say it, the gender issue will be on their minds. Why couldn’t she just stick it out? If she wasn’t picked, then she wasn’t picked. It would have been an unfortunate political defeat, but at least she would have saved face. She could’ve gotten more experience working alongside lawmakers and other New York public figures, and then made a run in two years when that very Senate seat is up. At that point, who would deny her? She has the Kennedy name, would’ve had her face in the news for a couple years, and would’ve had a campaign fund raising machine behind her unlike any of her competitors. That was a total lack of foresight.

Now she leaves the media to wonder what happened. A housekeeper issue? Her taxes weren’t in order? She wanted to be near her ailing uncle?

Talk about a missed opportunity.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Partisan Politics Returned After the Long Weekend

Yesterday, Hillary Rodham Clinton was confirmed as the new Secretary of State by a 94-2 vote. So who were the two senators who voted “no”? I found Chris Cillizza’s take on this issue fascinating.

One (Senator Vitter) is seeking reelection, while the other (Senator DeMint) wants to position himself at the forefront of a Republican Party that finds itself in disarray.

It’s amazing what a little investigative work reveals about the minds of our political leaders: in Washington, there is an interest behind every decision.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

America, Be Not Afraid to Look Behind You

Appearing in a New York Times op-ed column, Slate Magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick says Americans would rather turn the page than prosecute top Bush officials for war crimes and other atrocities. The crux of her argument is that this hope of “rebooting” the government, of preferring to recover, is not found in the language of law. There is no legal justification for not investigating or prosecuting senior officials who have authorized torture and warrant-less surveillance.

Americans want to focus on the brighter future that hopefully lies ahead, not dwell on our dark past. As Ms. Lithwick notes, however, that would be a mistake:

Nobody is looking for a series of public floggings. The blueprints for government accountability look nothing like witch hunts. They look like legal processes that have served us for centuries. And, as the Armed Services Committee report makes clear, we already know an enormous amount about what happened to take us down the road to torture and eavesdropping. The military has commissioned at least three investigative reports about the descent into abusive interrogation. Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has compiled what he believes to be sufficient evidence to try senior Bush administration officials for war crimes…

It’s not a witch hunt simply because political actors are under investigation. The process of investigating and prosecuting crimes makes up the bricks and mortar of our prosecutorial system. We don’t immunize drug dealers, pickpockets or car thieves because holding them to account is uncomfortable, difficult or divisive. We don’t protest that “it’s all behind us now” when a bank robber is brought to trial.

And America tends to survive the ugliness of public reckonings, from Nixon to Whitewater to the impeachment hearings, because for all our cheerful optimism, Americans fundamentally understand that nobody should be above the law. As the chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, Robert Jackson, warned: “Law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.”

At the Senate confirmation hearing, Eric Holder said that “waterboarding is torture.” Is Holder and the Obama administration prepared to bring these people to justice? Can the American people stomach the potentially difficult process? We must all remember that, as Mr. Holder said at his confirmation hearing, “no one is above the law.” To not investigate or prosecute these officials to the full extent of the law is to establish a dangerous precedent.

There is no immunity for war crimes, even when allegedly done for the sake of national security.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roland W. Burris? The Plot Thickens

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sure loves to create scandal. In his most recent move, the Ill. governor appointed Roland W. Burris to replace President-Elect Obama in the US Senate.

In a New York Times article, Don Rose, a former Democratic political consultant in Chicago, described Mr. Burris as “not a terribly exciting figure,” and that “there’s never been a breath of scandal about [Mr. Burris].”

However, another Times article suggests that the political waters surrounding Burris’ relationship with Blagojevich may be a bit murkier. Following the 2002 primary for governor, Mr. Burris encouraged Mr. Obama to endorse Mr. Blagojevich. At one point, Mr. Burris served as the vice chairman of the governor’s transition team.

Moreover, Mr. Burris and his consulting firm have made several contributions to Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign. State records show that the consulting firm has given more than $9,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, and Mr. Burris has personally handed out at least $4,500. In June of this year, Mr. Burris contributed $1,000 to Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign. The article also notes, though, that Mr. Burris is not someone believed to be mentioned in the conversations prosecutors recorded of Mr. Blagojevich’s apparent negotiations over the seat.

Can the Senate now exclude Mr. Burris from taking the seat? Not so fast. A Wall Street Journal law blog noted the effect that the US Supreme Court’s decision in Powell v. McCormick could have on this issue.

In Powell, Adam Clayton Powell, a Harlem representative facing some legal issues, won reelection in 1966. The House of Representatives voted to exclude him. The US Supreme Court’s decision was that the proceedings against Powell were intended to exclude him rather than expel him, and that the House did not constitutionally possess the power to exclude a duly elected member.

How does this affect Mr. Burris? Well, it seems that the Senate would have to wait for him to be seated as a new member of Congress, and only then could they force a vote to have him expelled. Removing Mr. Burris from the Senate would require a two-thirds vote, however. Will two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor of his removal? Only time will tell.

Regardless of how this political game plays out, Mr. Rose thinks Mr. Burris will “run again,” that this is what “[Mr. Burris has] always wanted.”

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment