By Gilbert Garcia
CBS reporter Roger Mudd noted during his infamous 1979 interview special with Ted Kennedy that, off the campaign stump, the Massachusetts senator "can become stilted, elliptical, and at times appear as if he really doesn't want America to get to know him."
Couldn't the exact same words be applied to Teddy's niece, Caroline, as she makes an awkward public show of her desire to win appointment to the United States Senate?
It's easy to mock Caroline for her grating, habitual use of the expression "you know," a tic which she apparently used more than 200 times during a recent 30-minute interview. That verbal placeholder reminds us that, for all her celebrity, she's basically a neophyte at public speaking. But if verbal elegance was a Capitol Hill prerequisite, how did Gerald Ford or Michele Bachmann ever make it there?
A little vocal coaching can help Kennedy with her presentation, but it can't solve the bigger problem. Much like Uncle Teddy in his 1980 presidential bid (which the Mudd interview was meant to kick-start), she just doesn't appear to have the stomach for this whole enterprise. She clearly likes the idea of being an Obama-era U.S. Senator, but hasn't thought much about the reality of it. Granted, Hillary Clinton's Senate seat opened up without a whole lot of warning, but Caroline's lack of preparedness on the issues is still pretty startling.
Her natural reticence has always made her appealing from a distance; an involuntary public figure who didn't need -- or want -- public adulation. After all, this is someone who co-authored a book about the right to privacy. It's interesting -- and kinda strange -- that although Kennedy has spent 48 years in the national spotlight, we've learned more about her in the last two weeks (admittedly, not all that much) than we ever knew before.
Reticence can be a fine quality in the real world, but in politics, it's crippling. If you can't work up some good emotional contrivance for the public on demand, you're unlikely to win a seat on anything bigger than a small-town school board. Bill Clinton could summon a television tear faster than you could say "Gennifer Flowers," and that intrinsic phoniness saved his political ass on numerous occasions. But that phoniness was just a manifestation of a steely drive, an all-consuming hunger for the brass ring, that also made him an effective leader.
Ted Kennedy ran for the presidency by rote, seemingly compelled by some kind of family obligation to fulfill the destiny of his brothers. He only seemed to locate his fire when the race was lost and the pressure was off. Caroline doesn't appear to have a comparable fire to locate. She's the opposite of a happy warrior -- more like a sheepish equivocator. She wants elective office without the election, because her idea of serving the voters doesn't include having to humble herself before those voters.
It's easy to understand those feelings, but harder to sympathize. The Senate doesn't really need her, and she obviously doesn't need the Senate, so what's the point?