Caroline Kennedy and the generation gap

Well, I was finally able to get outside and run again this morning. Not bad here in NE Ohio. Around 19 degrees with a modest breeze from the southwest. And it beats chasing the treadmill. If nothing else, I relish the opportunity to have an hour of quiet time, to think about things.

And I was thinking this morning about Caroline Kennedy. Before leaving to hit the concrete I read the numerous reports that she has taken herself out of the running to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat from New York. I don’t know whether she would have been a good senator or not. She is obviously intelligent and well-connected. She has been active in fundraising and issues involving the New York City schools. And she has name recognition — which matters with the news media.

Still, from the beginning of this story I was troubled by what appeared to me at least to be a sense of entitlement. I don’t think that her handlers did her any favor by restricting access to the media and lobbying New York Gov. David Patterson so hard and so directly. And if she wants to be senator, she still has an option. Run for office — engage the voters — in 2010.

But here’s the rub. I think Patterson — who stands for re-election at the same time — had some reservations that Caroline Kennedy can be elected. And that could diminish his chances as well.

Why? It’s generational.

Caroline Kennedy strikes me as the kind of person we need in public office — or at least as an advocate for public policy. She appears to have personal and professional integrity, and at this point in her life at least, a willingness and ability to serve in the public interest. But the name Kennedy (beyond her uncle) doesn’t necessarily resonate with voters at the polls these days.

We saw on Tuesday the shift to Barack Obama and the next generation of leaders. The name Kennedy is very much affixed to the generation that is now exiting, or has already exited, the public and private stage. John Kennedy entered the White House in 1961; he was assassinated in 1963. Had he lived, he would be approaching his 92 birthday.

Many (most?) of the generation who supported Obama so strongly — and joined in the celebration on the National Mall — don’t remember or identify with John Kennedy. It’s history.

And this next generation — the members of the so-called Generation X and Generation Y — deserve their opportunity to lead — and to secure the kind of jobs that baby boomers — including me — are reluctant to give up. I’m not sure where Caroline Kennedy falls in this generational lineup. She’s 51. But I think the name Kennedy to many people says yesterday, not today.

One of the significant problems facing businesses during this economic meltdown is how to ensure a qualified younger workforce — while retaining the experience and expertise of an older one.

That’s going to be a big issue in coming months and years as Obama will have to face up to the “legacy” costs of Social Security and Medicare. And younger workers continue to struggle to find jobs.

Not sure how I get all of this back to a discussion of Caroline Kennedy. But I do think that in politics — as well as business and jobs — we’re looking at issues that are generational. So if she wants to be senator — or mayor — or whatever, Caroline Kennedy is going to have to do it the hard way. Knock on some doors. Explain herself to the voters and the news media. And then let the voters decide.

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2 responses to “Caroline Kennedy and the generation gap

  1. Well-written piece. But Caroline Kennedy is not a Boomer. Nor was her father, who would be in his 90’s now.

    As many nationally influential voices have repeatedly noted, Obama (and Caroline Kennedy) are part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a lot of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (New York Times, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) are specifically referring to Obama and Caroline, born in 1961 and 1957, as part of Generation Jones.

  2. Thanks for the comment and information. I’ll admit that I have not see the term “Generation Jones” before. And I most likely didn’t say this as well as I could have in the original post — but one of my points is that I think the name “Kennedy” resonates more with the baby boomers than with other “generations.”

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