I watched the Caroline Kennedy fiasco with great interest. As a resident of the metro New York area, even though she wouldn’t have been my senator, she would’ve been looking out for New York City, which is practically a second home to me.
When it was first reported that she wanted the seat, my bias at the time was who is this woman, vaulting ahead of all these other hardworking pols, congresspeople mostly, who came up the old-fashioned way, no famous names, no independent wealth? I thought we were supposed to be done with dynasty politics. But then I heard some of her ideas. Like her unqualified support of gay rights including marriage. "I support all of it," she said. How courageous when almost no politician, even one from the Northeast has the guts to say such a thing out loud. She was unfazed saying it, too. So I decided to give her another look.
Then she had her disastrous media encounters. I was so flabbergasted at her poor performance, I called her PR firm to tell them that unless she improved – and it had better be soon – her candidacy was a doomed. They ignored me. Too bad, because if she’d made a better impression, if she’d just learned how to speak well enough and field questions from the press, she’d be the Senator-designate today instead of Kirsten Gillibrand.
But then I thought, here is a really intelligent woman who has written or edited 7 books, lived an honorable life, quietly supporting charities with her time and treasure. Why do we force our politicians to be great public speakers? Bombasts, actually. That she has a soft voice should not be a disqualifier. Women’s voices after all are rarely described as booming. That she is quiet and shy does not make her a wimp. Maybe she’s thoughtful. Wouldn’t that be nice in a politician for a change?
The reality is that we expected Kennedy, who wanted to be a Senator, a very, very powerful position, to display authority, confidence and, well, power. Those things would have symbolized for us that she had the temperament and tenacity to fight for New York. And even though she probably would’ve made a good Senator, in the absence of any display of those qualities, it was hard to imagine her in the role.
Maybe after her trial by fire, she figured, "Who needs it?" Maybe she doesn’t have the so-called fire in the belly. But, I hope she’ll be back. Maybe she’ll run in 2010. And, Caroline, I’d be glad to help.
Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High Stakes Communication / www.ruthsherman.com