Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kennedy, Burris and Identity Politics

The withdrawal of JFK's daughter as a replacement for Hillary Clinton leads to questions about gender and race in national politics in what we all celebrated as the Age of Obama this week.

In Illinois, the future felon Rod Blagojevich appoints Roland Burris amid calls to retain the President's seat for an African-American and now, with Caroline Kennedy gone, New York's governor speaks publicly and privately about "the importance of selecting a woman to replace Mrs. Clinton."

With the critical questions facing the Senate, when and how did substantive qualifications fall behind demographics in making choices for such high office?

Blagojevich was trying to save his skin in the face of impeachment and/or indictment. Now David Paterson, an accidental governor who came to office less than a year ago when Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sexual scandal, seems to be calculating his chances for election in 2010.

Elective politics can be messy, but calculated, self-interested appointments to represent two of the largest states in the Union are clearly worse.

Roland Burris will be a caretaker choice for the next two years, and Governor Paterson would be well-advised to do the same for New York, albeit for more honorable reasons.

At the risk of being repetitive, there is an appointee who could bring wisdom and experience to the Senate until voters make their choice in 2010. His name is Mario Cuomo, and it would reflect well on New York's governor if he could rise above identity politics and name him to Hillary Clinton's seat.

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