Here is the way the Constitution works now. Roland Burris, a longtime public servant in Illinois, will not be allowed to take his seat in the U.S. Senate because he has been appointed by a corrupt governor in a corrupt state. No matter that the Senate has never in its history denied a seat to an senator, whether elected or appointed, and no matter that there is not a hint of scandal about Burris’ appointment. It is highly doubtful that the Senate possesses the right to deny a seat for any cause, once a state has sent its representative. The Senate does have the power to expel members, but of 15 the senators thrown out of the Senate since 1789, all of them were charged with treason: one (in 1797) for conspiring to detach Florida from Spain and give it to Great Britain, the rest for supporting the Confederacy. These must be the precedents that Harry Reid has been gabbling about.
Caroline Kennedy, on the other hand, a political nonentity who makes Sarah Palin seem like Senator Robert Byrd, by comparison, is almost sure to be selected by a corrupt process in a corrupt state that takes into consideration only her enormous wealth and powerful connections. If Governor Paterson names her, it can only be for dishonorable (and probably dishonest) motives. Paterson is hardly a pillar of moral strength: He cheats on the wife who cheats on him, admits to having used cocaine, and has so far refused to crack down on the corruption in state government that rivals the pay-to-pay politics in Illinois.
Ms Kennedy-Schlossberg’s* only claim on Hilary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat is her maiden name. If a corrupt influence buys her the seat, it will only be the fulfillment of the Kennedy legacy. As the grand-daughter of the bootlegger and black-marketeer Joe Kennedy, who bought and paid for the West Virginia primary for his son John, and as the daughter of John Kennedy, who stole the White House with the help of the Daley machine in Chicago, Lyndon Johnson’s ballot-stuffing parade of dead Mexicans in Texas, and the Mafia connections of Sam Giancana (who shared his mistress with Jack), she clearly has the right to inherit the seat once held by her Machiavellian uncle Bobby. What a family, what a party, what a country! Even without so much as mentioning her Uncle Teddy, no decent American can pronounce the name “Kennedy” without a shudder of revulsion. They are the Borgias of American history.
But stop, I am being unfair—and not just to the Borgias, but to Renaissance Italians. Alexander VI and his son Cesare were not held up by their contemporaries as the fulfillment of a dream, a combination of Gregory the Great and Charlemagne. They were simply the most unscrupulous (if even that is fair) exemplars of the noble families who used the papacy as a power base. Even their flatters did not speak of Camelot or a Vergilian Age of Gold. Taken as a whole, the ruling families of the Italian Renaissance—the Medici, d’Este, Gonzaga, and Montefeltro clans were, morally speaking, a dubious lot, but they were also brilliant and cultivated. Lorenzo de’Medici may have bedded many women—though only a fraction of JFK’s conquests—but he celebrated his amours in some of the best verse written in his day. He not only patronized scholars, poets, and painters, but he was a man of considerable cultivation. Lorenzo did not have to pay (à la Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School) professionals to write his term papers or cheat on his Spanish exam.
The Kennedys are not, then, our Borgias but our Medici, our Bourbons, our Plantagenets. When we look in Ray Bradbury’s funhouse mirror, where we see ourselves as we would wish to be seen, we see the faces of the Kennedys. They are the fulfillment of the dreams of Americans who lust after nothing loftier than wealth and celebrity, and when their goals are reached, they and their children are free to wallow in their vices—adultery, alcoholism, cocaine-snorting. Machiavelli and his later disciples, Pareto and Mosca, would have no trouble in interpreting the Kennedy phenomenon: They represent, if not a true nobility, an elite class, and since the character of every society is best represented by the elite the impresses its image on the less fortunate classes, the Kennedys are who we all want to be assuming we do not prefer the examples of Britney Spears, Kanye West, or Plaxico Burress. Perhaps if Rad Blagojevich chose Plaxico, instead of Roland, there would not have been a problem.
*Yes, I know, she is said never to have changed her name. But names are not simply nonsense syllables we give to children, as Ms Palin did, who can then do what they like with them. She is free to claim any name we likes, and civilized people are equally free to call her by her correct name.