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What's In The Kennedy Name? Plenty

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What's In The Kennedy Name? Plenty

Opinion

What's In The Kennedy Name? Plenty

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

There are strong feelings out there about the possibility that Caroline Kennedy may become the next senator from New York. This week, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy announced her interest in Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. Yesterday, commentator Matthew Continetti argued that a move to appoint Kennedy would smack of entitlement. Today, a different view. It comes from Adam Bellow, author of the book "In Praise of Nepotism."

Mr. ADAM BELLOW (Author, "In Praise of Nepotism"): I'm going to make a bold statement and predict that Caroline Kennedy, will turn out to be an excellent senator. That doesn't mean I endorse her selection or approve of the way she has chosen to enter public life. For starters, as dynasties go, I am not a big fan of the Kennedys. What's more, I fully understand why many people are offended by her behind the scenes campaign to be anointed senator instead of having to work for it like Hillary Clinton. The whole thing reeks of privilege and entitlement.

But she seems on track to become Senator anyway, so let's focus on a more practical question, namely whether she can be expected to perform well in office. I'm betting the answer is yes. How do I know? I base my prediction not on any personal knowledge of Ms. Kennedy but purely on the strength of the patterns I discovered in the three years I spent researching a book on dynastic families.

Caroline fits the pattern of late-blooming dynastic successors. The classic case in literature is Shakespeare's Prince Hal or the Godfather's Michael Corleone. These young people apparently want nothing to do with the family business, and yet, when opportunity beckons, they emerge from nowhere to assume its leadership. By lowering expectations, the successor shines more brightly when he finally emerges. Plus, if he fails, he hasn't got that far to fall. It's a safe strategy, born of insecurity or other personal demons.

Caroline Kennedy appears to have made a career of lowering expectations, presenting herself as a mild-mannered lawyer, author, mother, and philanthropist. But she is still a Kennedy and has not only a detailed knowledge of politics but a keen grasp of the power of her family name and how to use it. There also seems to be a real desire to take the torch from the terminally ill hands of her uncle Ted. This kind of motivation is common in dynastic families, and it is as good a reason as any to go into politics. Indeed, it is better than most.

Besides, dynastic successors are often driven to exceed expectations and typically work twice as hard in order to earn their advantages after the fact. And if she doesn't show a flair for the popular touch, like that other dynastic successor Franklin Roosevelt, it will quickly bring her down. Her candidacy is therefore truly a test of whether background and breeding are sufficient to qualify someone for high political office. It will be an interesting experiment. But I'm betting on dynastic training and innate political gifts.

The Kennedy name is a political talisman of tremendous power. Previously unwilling to use it, she has suddenly and quite unexpectedly decided to do so now. In mythological terms, she has drawn her father's sword from the stone. All I can say is, watch out New York! You have a new queen, and her name is Caroline.

BLOCK: Adam Bellow is author of "In Praise of Nepotism." You can comment on this essay or the essay we aired yesterday on the opinion page at npr.org.

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