Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

January 11, 2009

Relying on DNA

Filed under: Congress,Government,Presidency — Benjamin Carp @ 4:06 pm

My last post referred to Lincoln, FDR, and JFK as “pretty good presidents,” but heck, Lincoln and FDR were great presidents, while JFK never even had the chance to finish out his first term.  I’ll let 20th-century historians debate JFK’s greatness, but I hope we can at least agree that there’s always been something a little fishy about the mythmaking surrounding “Camelot” and the Kennedys as an “American aristocracy.”

Ted Sorensen exemplified this during the panel at the New York Times.  When asked who New York Governor David Paterson should choose to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacated senate seat, Sorensen replied, “I always rely on DNA.”

Really?  How did that work out for the Hapsburgs?

Now this line also got a laugh.  And at the lordly New York Times, you rather worry that they were laughing with him rather than at him.  But does Sorensen choose his doctors and airline pilots this way?  Sorensen, of course, refers to Caroline Kennedy’s bid for Paterson to name her to the seat.  And at the end of the day, you can’t really blame him for his preference.

Still, it’s irritating.  I’m neither the first nor the smartest person to say this, but if Caroline Kennedy wants to demonstrate her fitness to hold a Democratic seat as junior senator for New York, she should run for the office in 2010.  In the meantime, Paterson should pick a placeholder.  It’s bad enough when Senate seats become dynastic, but you should at least burnish your résumé by showing you can face the electorate and win.

This is Common-place, so it seems fitting to give the floor to Common Sense (by Thomas Paine):

But it is not so much the absurdity as the evil of hereditary succession which concerns mankind. Did it ensure a race of good and wise men it would have the seal of divine authority, but as it opens a door to the foolish, the wicked; and the improper, it hath in it the nature of oppression. Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.

Furthermore, as someone at the panel pointed out, if you’re going to rely on DNA, then Andrew Cuomo would serve just as well, wouldn’t he?  Once again, Paine has the last word:

However, it is needless to spend much time in exposing the folly of hereditary right, if there are any so weak as to believe it, let them promiscuously worship the ass and lion, and welcome. I shall neither copy their humility, nor disturb their devotion.

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Win a Date with Barack Obama

Filed under: 2008 elections,Media,Obama Administration,Presidency — Benjamin Carp @ 10:19 am

On Friday, the New York Times hosted a roundtable discussion with Harold HolzerJonathan Alter, and Ted Sorensen.  It was a beautiful, cold day looking over the Hudson River from the 15th floor.  The panelists discussed how Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy dealt with crisis and war during their presidencies.  (Christie’s also displayed the original copy of Lincoln’s victory speech of November 10, 1864, which can be yours for $3-4 million.  The text of the speech itself is free.)

Jonathan Alter trucked out the famous Oliver Wendell Holmes quip that FDR had a “second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament.”  After observing that Barack Obama has a “first-class intellect,” he noted that Obama’s temperament, in the face of our current crises, is as yet untested.  ”All presidents are blind dates,” Alter said, which got a laugh from the audience of jaded reporters and ad-salesmen.

Now, the idea of a date with Obama sounds like something Amber Lee Ettinger would say.   She just couldn’t wait for 2008.  But 2008 was just an election—now it’s 2009, and the guy’s got to run the country.  Alter’s comment calls to mind this interesting New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell on the difficulty of predicting who will be a good professional quarterback or public school teacher.  The same is true of picking an elected leader.  Can Obama keep his cool even when the pocket starts to close in?

The electorate’s expectations for Obama are pretty high.  Obama ran an impressive campaign in 2008, which is a pretty grueling executive responsibility in and of itself.  So there’s every reason to think that the temperament of “No-Drama Obama” will suit the country just fine.  On the other hand, the United States faces some pretty big challenges—and Obama can’t overcome them all with just, well, temperament.

The NYT chose three panelists who had written about Lincoln, FDR, and JFK.  The take-away theme was: history gives us reason to hope.  But then again, they cherry-picked three pretty good presidents for the discussion.

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