Pixel Tracker

Monday, December 17 , 2018, 5:06 am | Light Rain 54º


Susan Estrich: The Next Sen. Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy doesn't need the Senate, but the Senate could use her.

The news that Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president and much-dubbed Princess of Camelot, is seeking to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate has set many tongues to wagging.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich
It’s all about entitlement, some are saying: What has she done to deserve a seat in the Senate? What does she know? Who does she think she is?

Some years ago, I was helping a candidate prepare to enter politics for the first time. He didn’t know what to say. I did. “How come I’m running and you’re not?” he said to me, not entirely in jest. The answer was obvious: You can hire someone like I used to be to brief you on issues, write speeches, talk through positions. He had the money and the contacts to finance the race. I didn’t. End of story.

He did a great job, by the way. He learned what I could teach him and put together the money to run a successful campaign. It may not be fair, but what is?

Politics isn’t a contest to see who can name the most heads of state or rattle off the most bill numbers. That you can learn. What you can’t learn is what Kennedy already has: stature, charisma, standing in the world. What you can’t buy — or shouldn’t — is the kind of influence that can be wielded by someone who can call anyone in the world and have their call taken, walk into any room and be noticed, give a speech on anything and get an audience for it.

Her supporters point out that she raised hundreds of millions of dollars for New York City schools. Her critics point out that raising that kind of money doesn’t prove you know anything about education. They’re right, but it’s beside the point. Raising that kind of money proves you know how to tap into the levers of power, who to call and how to get them to say yes — and that you’re big enough in every sense of the word to get big things done.

Will Kennedy be a more effective spokeswoman for New York for all these reasons? Of course she will. When she stands up, people will listen. When she asks, people will respond. When she puts herself on the line, the chances of a bill passing or a nominee being confirmed will increase. Most junior senators, especially the ones even people in their home state can’t identify, don’t have much clout in Washington. Kennedy will be a player from the moment she arrives.

I remember when I first went to Washington, too many years ago, being awestruck as I sat in the Senate galley and recognized one giant after another on the floor below. Humphrey and Kennedy, Hart and Russell, Jake Javitz and Pat Moynihan and Paul Douglas and Ed Brooke, J. William Fulbright and George McGovern. I’m not sure I could point out as many people today as I could then; actually, I’m sure I couldn’t. With Hillary leaving and Ted Kennedy fighting serious cancer, the Senate is heading for a giant gap.

Kennedy doesn’t need to be a senator in order to be noticed, listened to, taken seriously and invited to fancy parties. She can do all those things right now. She doesn’t need the Senate in order to speak her mind and have her voice be heard. She certainly doesn’t need the salary, and she could probably live without the aggravation. Two campaigns in two years is not exactly a gift. She will lose her privacy and become a target for the toughest media crowd in the country.

I think it speaks well for her — and for the idea of public service that her father so eloquently championed — that Kennedy is throwing her hat in the ring. I wish her the best of luck. She doesn’t need the Senate, but the Senate could certainly use her.

Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.