Sun, Jan 25, 2009 - Page 14 News List

The Kennedy who declined

Caroline Kennedy, who withdrew her bid for a US Senate seat last week, guarded her privacy so closely for much of the past five decades that she was poorly prepared to campaign for political office

By Sebastian Smith  /  AFP , NEW YORK

VIEW THIS PAGE All Kennedys seem born to rule, but in Caroline Kennedy’s case there was a difference: she didn’t want to.

Late Wednesday Kennedy announced her last-minute withdrawal from consideration for the US Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, the newly confirmed US secretary of state.

The about-face, just when she was apparently within reach of winning the coveted position, was seen as a stunning surprise. “SHE’S OUT!” screamed the New York Post tabloid on Thursday. “Caroline’s Kaput.”

Yet that seemingly abrupt retreat crowned decades of resistance by Kennedy to entering what is practically her family business.

Sole surviving child of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy and scion to a family synonymous with political power, Kennedy, 51, is as close as Americans come to royalty. Her uncle Robert F. Kennedy, also assassinated, once held the Senate seat she was trying to fill.

Other members of the clan, led by JFK’s brother and ailing Senate elder statesman Ted Kennedy, are fixtures in the political pages and gossip columns of newspapers.

But until applying for Clinton’s Senate seat, Caroline Kennedy had never sought public office.

A wealthy and intensely private person, she graduated as a lawyer, but reportedly never practiced. She wrote seven books, but never played the celebrity game.

Though she lives on New York’s exclusive Park Avenue, she reportedly keeps using the city’s grimy subway, and her philanthropic work and activity in New York’s public education system get little publicity.

For many Americans, Caroline Kennedy has remained almost frozen in time — forever the adorable girl photographed riding her pony around the White House grounds or, tragically, attending her father’s 1963 funeral at Arlington Cemetery.

So there was an electric reaction in January last year when she burst out of her fairly private world to endorse Barack Obama.

In a New York Times column titled A President Like My Father, Kennedy wrote of never having seen a president who matched up to the way people still talked about JFK.

Now, she said, “I believe I have found a man who could be that president.”

The Times quoted Obama campaign manager David Plouffe this week saying that this Kennedy blessing came out of the blue. “We found out when the rest of America found out,” he said. “It was a remarkable thing.”

From there, Kennedy entered the political big time as an Obama campaigner and advisor on the crucial decision of picking a vice president candidate.

Then less than two months ago, she threw her hat into the ring as contender for Clinton’s seat, a decision that rests wholly with New York Governor David Paterson.

But a lifetime of shyness and seeming lack of hunger for power had apparently left her badly prepared.

She committed the cardinal sin of trying to ignore the media. Then she gave a flurry of interviews, only to get in more trouble for appearing vague and curiously unable to avoid punctuating sentences with endless repetitions of “you know.”

Within days, Kennedy veered from seemingly inevitable choice for the seat to target of critics who complained she was being foisted on the public with nothing to her resume but her famous family name.

Some even compared her to Sarah Palin, the Alaskan governor who ran as Republican John McCain’s vice presidential candidate and drew ridicule for lack of foreign policy savvy.

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