Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Commentary: If Clinton could do it, why not Kennedy?

Story Highlights
  • Roland Martin: When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate, she lacked usual background
  • N.Y. politicians deferred to Clinton and gave her the nomination, Martin says
  • Caroline Kennedy has a record of philanthropy and dedication to issues, he says
  • Martin: Kennedy's heart is in the right place, demonstrating compassion

CNN Editor's note: Join Roland S. Martin for his weekly sound-off segment on Live at 11:10 a.m. ET Wednesday. If you're passionate about politics, he wants to hear from you. A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland Martin says the critics of Caroline Kennedy's Senate bid are wrong.

(CNN) -- When Hillary Clinton announced in November 1999 that she was running for the U.S. Senate to replace the legendary Sen. Patrick Moynihan, she had never cast a single vote as an elected officeholder. She had never put forth an agenda the voters could use to decide whether she was the best candidate.

Her resume?

First lady. Lawyer. Advocate for health care and children's issues.

That's it.

But when she made it clear that she was going to seek the job, the New York Democratic congressional delegation stepped aside, bowing to the wishes of the first lady, who had barely lived in New York state long enough to figure out where to find a great slice of pizza. Even Rep. Nita Lowey, who had spent 10 years in the House of Representatives and was considered the front-runner for the Senate seat, bowed out to accommodate the wishes of Clinton.

So here we are nine years later, and there is a huge fuss over Caroline Kennedy's decision to let New York Gov. David Paterson know that she desires the job.

It's rather pathetic to listen to the naysayers deride Kennedy's accomplishments and dismiss them as if she was a spoiled rich kid of a family who has bounced from Paris to Monaco to Dubai, living the high life, and all of a sudden deciding that she wants to ride the Kennedy name into elected office.

New York Rep. Gary Ackerman did his best to dismiss Kennedy's qualifications by saying that "she has name recognition -- but so does J-Lo."

Even Clinton's rabid supporters are trying to scuttle Kennedy's bid, still angry because she endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama over their candidate for president. Frankly, it's time you got the hell over it.

By the way, for all the Kennedy haters who are stuck on stupid when it comes to qualifications, go and read the U.S. Constitution. There are just three requirements as outlined by law for the seat:

"No person shall be a senator who shall not have attained to the age of 30 years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen."

That's it; end of conversation when it comes to the issue of qualifications. Anything beyond what the Constitution says is entirely subjective.

As a resident of the state of Texas who also resides in Illinois, I really don't give a hoot who represents New York in the U.S. Senate. But I am willing to call out sheer ignorance when it is operating in full glory.

I've met Caroline Kennedy just one time in my life, and that was in the CNN Grill at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. I said hello. She said hello. End of story. So I have no dog in this hunt.

But I find it intriguing to know that this candidate is someone who has spent years focusing on philanthropic issues that deal with education, health care, expanding America's interests in the arts, writing books dealing with the right to privacy and the Bill of Rights, showing a passion for civil rights and serving as a national board member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Instead of ripping her to shreds, maybe the haters should step back and recognize that here is a woman who understands public service. A notoriously private woman who is painfully shy in public, she clearly recognizes that we are in desperate need of people who care about the public good, and not necessarily amassing power on their way up the political ladder.

There are countless individuals in the U.S. House and Senate who sought the position because they actually wanted to change something. There are doctors, teachers, small-business owners -- all individuals who saw this nation going down the wrong path, and they desired to step up, rather than sit back and complain.

Paterson may choose a typical politician to fill the remaining two years of Clinton's term. But at least he can count on Kennedy's heart being in the right place -- having love and compassion for the people, which is the true measure of a public servant.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

Read more about it: Wikipedia entry on Caroline Kennedy

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