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December 19, 2008

Caroline Kennedy, Senator?

Roy Meachum

Her ballet slippers are probably lost; discarded with other no-longer-useful items when the family moved out of the White House and back to Georgetown. When the sightseers and gawkers proved too much, her mother settled the small brood in New York; the brother was too young to recall the details. While alive, his memory must have remained tattooed with impressions, including faces.


When I made her acquaintance, Caroline Kennedy was a rising five-year-old. Under Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill, her protectors delivered her weekly to the Washington School of Ballet; she took beginner's classes from Igor Swetzoff, who studied at St. Petersburg's Mariensky with George Balanchine. (In a hiatus from journalism, I ran the Washington National Ballet Foundation, which included the school.)


Sometimes her mother came along. Jacqueline Kennedy sparked excitement whenever she went; I knew other first ladies, before and after; none generated her dynamics. Clint Hill headed the Secret Service contingent charged with protecting Mrs. Kennedy; his assignment extended to her daughter. We became friends while he bided time in the office during classes. (Clint made history in the 1963 assassination by climbing on the trunk of Mr. Kennedy's limousine and covering with his body both the president and his wife.)


It is safe to say Caroline Kennedy's world was very pleasant before Dallas; literally everyone fawned on the White House "princess" – a sobriquet she merited. When her father was killed, reportedly she turned withdrawn; she was sunny before. Having met the mother and observed the child's reticence, I could not but sympathize when both female Kennedys chose to avoid the world's hurly burly.


Washington veterans were mostly surprised when the, heretofore, political recluse came out, and strongly, for Barack Obama this autumn. She even brought along her Uncle Ted Kennedy; furthermore, she hit the campaign trail. Hard.


Son-of-a-gun! That was reaction to her declaring she wanted Hilary Clinton's slot when the New York senator becomes Mr. Obama's secretary of state. I was less astonished than mildly surprised. Caroline Kennedy – she never took her husband's name – decided she was tired of staying in the public cocoon. In her family's best tradition, she became a political butterfly. Robert Kennedy, her uncle, occupied the seat when, in his turn, an assassin did him in.


While Uncle Ted and Uncle Bobby's spawn have managed to get through 40 years unscathed, the family's opponents exist as ever, and they're more enraged by her support for president-designate Obama, who became the first black ever elected to the Oval Office. For diehards, the Kennedy clan remains the symbol of ultra liberalism run amok.


While her gender may absolve her from the fate meted out to her father and uncle, maybe not. She still must deal with the rivals for Mrs. Clinton's replacement; she will endure wall-to-wall coverage that didn't exist for her uncle and father. She is now a public figure.


My first years in journalism, reporting on politicians, was split into two distinct parts; what was done in or through the office was fair game. The reason for the blanket on Marilyn Monroe and other affairs, involving both the president and his attorney general, came under the heading of personal lives. For example, at the time, the press hordes knew of the Kennedys' sexual adventures. You cannot find them in that era's newspapers. No way.


This is not to suggest the candidate for the Senate is anything less than as advertised: the mother of three, married to a designer of museum exhibits. Today's ruder media is very capable of making her complicit in others' sins. Particularly her goody, two white shoes image poses the challenge that reporters love to overcome.


In this situation, I am possessed of two minds equally strong. My fondness for the little girl who took ballet, and my absolute belief in Caroline Kennedy's integrity clash with my aging romantic's sorrow in anticipation of all the upcoming mud that will get slung her way. But I never attempted to save my blood-children from life's vicissitudes.


So. Let the games begin.


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