Thursday, December 18, 2008

The election is over, but talk of sexism persists in relation to the open U.S. Senate seat for NY

Caroline Kennedy formally requested this week that NY Governor David Paterson consider her for the U.S. Senate seat for that state, the seat that will open when Hillary Rodham Clinton resigns to become Secretary of State. (Photo Jean-Pierre Muller/Getty Images).

Here is the NYT story. Kennedy had only just put herself forward for consideration when commentators started throwing around words like "sexism" and "nepotism." Here's what Nicholas Kristof had to say yesterday in his blog:
Caroline Kennedy strikes me as a very impressive woman with all the right priorities, such as education. But I also find it unseemly and undemocratic that she seems to have vaulted to the top of the Senate list by virtue of who her dad was. * * * Isn’t that sexist?
I'm not sure how it is sexist . . . unless he is drawing some analogy to McCain's selection of Palin --which many argued was just because Palin was female. Also, there is the argument that since Hillary Rodham Clinton has held the seat, it has become a "woman's seat" and should be filled by another woman.

Kristof continues in a way that implicitly acknowledges the latter argument by saying that choosing Kennedy would be "disrespectful" of other female NY politicians with more experience and public service. He then again asserts sexism:
Isn’t it sexist to rush to support a woman because of her father, while ignoring other women who have earned their own substantial credentials in their own careers in Congress?
I appreciate his acknowledging the fine work of congresswomen and other female politicians from NY, but I don't know that it's sexist to support a woman with a famous father when, as Kristof himself acknowledges, various political dynasties in our nation's history have anointed sons. The Bushes are a fine example.

Don't miss readers comments on Kristof's post. More than one notes that if an "ism" is at play, it's nepotism, not sexism.

In her column today, Gail Collins also takes up the "fairness question." She begins by observing that New York is taking Caroline seriously and suggests it is with good reason. Collins notes Kennedy's extraordinary success as a fundraiser, while also distinguishing between the good causes for which Kennedy has raised money in the past and the distinct challenge of political fundraising. She also views Kennedy as having other important political skills, saying, "it's easy to imagine Kennedy doing a Hillary-like 'listening tour,' having round-table discussions about the dairy compact or broadband access."

Collins acknowledges that picking Kennedy may not be "fair," but then life rarely is. Collins seems a bit more positive than Kristof about the prospect and potential of Caroline Kennedy as U.S. Senator. And, hmmm, Collins doesn't mention sexism, perhaps because she does not see it as a force or issue in Paterson's decision.

No comments: