Real Life Politics

Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, December 10, 2008 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Ruth Marcus was online Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss her thoughts about Caroline Kennedy as a possible senator, her recent columns, her posts on the Post Partisan blog and the latest news.

The transcript follows.


Ruth Marcus: Hi everyone, sorry, some last minute computer problems, but let's get started.


Sen. Caroline: Your column was satire, wasn't it? If so, it was brilliant (though, I must admit, I didn't get it at first). If it was serious, it was, well, kind of silly. A Vote for Senator Caroline (Post, Dec. 9)

Ruth Marcus: Well, you had a lot of company in people who did not like the column. It was not satire. I thought I was pretty clear in admitting that on this issue my head was at war with my heart.


Back to work : I see Blagojevich is free from custody and back to work -- business as usual. It did occur to me, what with the depth of his corruption, even by Chicago politics standards, that anyone would want to be associated with working for him (people who might have or seemed to have had helped him in his quest for goodies). Wouldn't it be in the interest of those colleagues closest to him (and a breath of fresh air) if everyone in his office said they weren't going to work for him anymore? I'm naive, of course.

Ruth Marcus: Well, I'm not sure what's best for the people of Illinois who matter here. However, I do think anyone who accepts a senatorial appoitment from the governor is obviously unfit for the job.


Plainsboro, N.J.: People talk about the lack of qualifications and experience. They said it about Obama and they are saying it about Caroline Kennedy. I believe it is neither of those factors. Nor is it about race, gender, nor age. It is about paying one's dues. Is it fair for someone to waltz to the top of the line over the heads of the many who have slogged in the trenches for years? At least Obama was elected by the public. Fair enough. But for Ms. Kennedy to be appointed because she has an accomplished last name seems to be taking the unfairness of it all to the extreme.

So, I ask you: Is it fair for Ms. Kennedy to waltz into the U.S. Senate over the heads of so many others who have served the people of N.Y. for a number of years?

Ruth Marcus: I am, as a general matter, and having paid my share, a big believer in dues paying. As I wrote. It is not fair, in some sense, but neither is it "fair" to have, say, widows appointmed to Senate seats, or daughters, and at least with the former, that has happened with much less outcry. I also believe dues can be paid in various ways. And the bigger fault here, I think, is a system that does not provide for/require special elections rather than gubernatorial appointments.


Richmond, Va.: Upfront, let me say that I was/am an ardent Obama supporter, so it is with dismay that I write of something that may be another one of those "cover ups" that are worse than the act. It appears that to avoid being tainted by the Blagojevich scandal, David Axelrod has just fallen on his sword, backtracking on whether Obama had spoken to the Illinois governor about Obama's Senate seat. I really fear that this little "revision" to what may have been a normal conversation between Obama and Blagojevic, will become a scandal in itself. Any thoughts?

Ruth Marcus: Don't think we have enough information to judge yet. Axelrod seemed pretty definitive in his first answer, but his denial was also pretty broad in terms of Obama never having discussed the issue with the Governor. But that leaves, it seems to me, a lot of legitimate questions: what other discussions were had at the below-president-elect level? Did the president-elect talk to anybody in the governor's orbit short of the governor?


Washington, D.C. I'm sure you'll get a lot of comments in this vein, but I am really uncomfortable with the Camelot talk surrounding Caroline Kennedy. I'm sure she is a wonderful person who is capable of wonderful things, but I do not want to live in a country where somebody is given a Senate seat based on her last name.

There are a lot of people with legislative experience in the state of New York who have devoted their lives to public service, and I think it is decidedly un-American to pass those people over for the spirit of dynastic restoration.

At least Blagojevich opened it up to the highest bidder -- that's much more egalitarian than reserving a seat for American royalty.

Ruth Marcus: Somehow I think I'd take Camelot over Corrupt Pol. A lot. I think I used an almost identical phrase, decidedly un-American, but I think we should also not delude ourselves that she would be the only such beneficiary of family ties.


Columbia, N.C.: The corruption, lying, graft, bribery, and deceit in politics seem to never end. Recent cases involve Duke Cunningham, William Jefferson, Tom Delay, Rod Blagojavich, Jack Abramoff, Scooter Libby, Ted Stevens, Bob Ney, and David Safavian. Governors, senators, congressmen, and high appointees from both political parties have been caught, tried, and imprisoned. What more can be done to end the public crimes that tear apart confidence in our government?

Ruth Marcus: Great question. One clear answer, at least: tighter campaign finance laws, and preferably a system of public financing of campaigns. Illinois has essentially no limits on political donations, which if you read the indictment is at the heart of the problem there. In addition, transparency. It is impossible to completely prevent corrupt people from being dishonest, but sunlight helps.


Fairfax Station, Va.: Ruth, I agree with you that Caroline Kennedy would be an exceptional choice for New York senator. If chosen, I hope she can be a leader to a new post-partisan era that steers wide of the non-negotiable ideological social issues. Is there any news about Gov. Paterson's decision?

Ruth Marcus: I'm not sure about any news, and it's not completely clear to me that Caroline Kennedy is absolutely certain she wants the job.


require special elections rather than gubernatorial appointments. : Elections are expensive, slow and, as we have seen in Minnesota, may yield no believable result. In any case there will be an election in 2010.

Ruth Marcus: Elections are expensive, slow and often flawed. The question is which is the preferable alternative--cumbersome democracy or gubernatorial edict. We have special elections for House seats.


Tucson, Ariz.: First, Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Corzine, and Jesse Ventura were all ELECTED. They're not at all comparable to an appointed Caroline Kennedy.

Second, given the events in Illinois, and Alaska (Murkowski), and Delaware (setting up Beau Biden), isn't it time to quit the fairy tales and have a level-headed discussion as to whether governors should ever be allowed to appoint legislators? Paterson is obviously basing his pick on who will help his own re-election bid in 2010. That's a problem for our democracy.

Ruth Marcus: As I said earlier, I agree with the proposition that gubernatorial apopintments aren't a great idea. But she would have to run and win on her own in 2010 if she were appointed, she doesn't have the chance to prove her capacity to get elected now, and in some way it may be that the voters of New York would have a better way to judge her fitness after two years and boot her if they prefer someone different.


Arlington, Va.: While not as exciting as news out of Illinois, I was very happy to read the AP report that Nancy Sutley will lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. I've been waiting for a high profile appointment of an openly gay person. (Though I was hoping for something more prominent, like a cabinet post...)

Ruth Marcus: Interesting. I know there has been a lot of internal focus on making sure that diversity includes sexual orientation.


Virginia: Dear Ms. Marcus,

Last week, you wrote about an article in Science magazine and argued that Larry Summers was right in saying men are better than women at science (you're misrepresenting the overall literature on the subject, but that's a different comment). Then yesterday you write that Caroline Kennedy should be a senator because she reminds you of a fairy tale princess. To paraphrase Jane Austen, you're rather harsh toward your sex of late. Was Summers Right? (Post, Dec. 3)

Ruth Marcus: Well, he didn't say that men are better than women at science in general. He hypothesized that differentials in ability at the very top of the tail may account for some, not all, and not even the biggest amount, of the differential representation of men and women in extremely elite academic jobs. I'd be happy to debate the literature, much of which I thought was suffused with wishful thinking on the part of people who are determined not to find any gender differences whatsover. From my reaing of the literature, I'll take the female brain any time. How many of us use verbal skills vs. math skills on a daily basis?

As to harsh toward my gender, I try to call it as I see it every week. And my wishful thinking--Camelot restoriation, or whatever Caroline in the Senate would be--I at lest identified as coming from my female heart and not my female brain!


NY Bonafides: Did Hillary not waltz in over the heads of all the other so-called hardworking NY pols when she moved there, set up shop and ran for the Senate, primarily on name recognition alone? Not discounting her abilities, or her qualifications for the gig -- but hey, dues are dues right?.

Ruth Marcus: Hillary is/was certainly a carpetbagger in NY, as was, I think it's fair to say, RFK. But I think it's fair to say that she paid more dues in public life, politics, public policy than Caroline.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm not sure if you watch "The Daily Show," but last night Jon Stewart destroyed Mike Huckabee during his interview with him over the issue of gay marriage. I know journalists can't be as aggressive in confronting the governor and the social conservative crowd as Stewart was, but I'm very happy that there is an outlet in the media for this to happen, even if it's on Comedy Central. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (, Dec. 9)

Ruth Marcus: This is how old I am: I TIVO the Daily Show because I don't stay up that late; then I watch it the next day. Stewart has consistently been magnificently outspoken on the subject of gay marriage. It's obviously an issue he feels strongly about and I think it's great that a straight guy has taken it on. Journalists confronting? Depends what kind--news reporters, opinion columnists? I've worn both hats, and they fit pretty differently.


Caroline Kennedy: You know, she isn't "waltzing in".....she has been public servant all her life. She is an accomplished professional woman, an attorney, a NY resident, and she has politcal savy. Is she qualified? Yes. Is she the right one? Who knows....but she seems a popular choice by the polls in NY. I'd love to have her as my least I could -trust- her.

However, I totally agree there should be provisions for special elections rather than appointments. But it is what it is....and anyone appointed will have "waltzed in" just as much as she, having escaped a campaign and election.

Ruth Marcus: Oh, I know I'm arguing against myself, but it is, relatively speaking, waltzing. Appointment of a sitting member of congress or another longtime New York political figure would be much less controversial


Princeton, NJ: Certainly Caroline brings more "qualifications" than Ted did to the Senate. But fewer than, say, Clfford Case, or Ted Stevens.

Ruth Marcus: Noted.


Dues Smuz: That is what is wrong with a lot of the older (my) generation. This belief that because I paid dues, so should you - not that you played the game better than I did, or that I accepted a practice of sitting on the sidelines patiently waiting my turn, while Bill the moron got the job because he was here longer or played the dues game.

Ruth Marcus: As a general matter, I'm a big believer in the value of experience. I hope I do a good job writing my column, and I don't think I could have done nearly as good a job 20 years ago, when I was a younger reporter.


"And the bigger fault here...": Won't there be a special election in 2010? With a regular election for the N.Y. Senate seat in 2012? I am tired of people complaining about the gubernatorial appointments. It is not logistically or fiscally sound to have a full blown election every time a seat comes open. Relax. Breathe. You can wait two years to vote someone in or out.

Ruth Marcus: I'm going to spend much of the rest of my day trying to talk to people and read on this subject to figure out whether the only reasonable answer is to relax and breathe.


The Jackson 5: Ruth,

It's being reported that Jesse Jackson Jr. is "Candidate #5"; so far, #5 was the only one who promised money for the seat. Does this mean that Jackson will be in jeopardy of losing his House seat (he's too radioactive for the Senate -- I guess throwing his dad under the Change Express didn't help him in the long run).

Ruth Marcus: Depends on the evidence. There was a lot of loose talk reported in the indictment, promises of raising campaign cash, depending on precisely what was said how much trouble anyone is in.


"But I think it's fair to say that she paid more dues in public life, politics, public policy than Caroline.": Public policy, yes. Public life, no way. I am sorry but there is no greater "due" than what Caroline Kennedy has paid. Her entire life she has been in the public eye, not by her own actions. The tragic family matters she has had to endure publicly -- again, all her life.

Ruth Marcus: Since that was a big piece of my column, obviously I agree in terms of the price that she paid. I don't see a Senate seat as fitting recompense for this in any way. In terms of public life and dues paying, what I meant was that Hillary has spent her life by choice in the public arena, beng involved in the issues of the day. Caroline, much less.


Cocoa Beach, Fl: We have a politician in Florida who got millions for a college in the northern part of a state. He is leaving public office for a position with this school that pays $100,000 plus per year. This is out in the open. It is not illegal but maybe just a little immoral. Why isn't it illegal?

Ruth Marcus: Because the illegality would depend on many other factors not in evidence, as the lawyers say: whether there was an explicit or implicit quid pro quo: you get us the earmark, we'll give you a job; or any other understanding that this was given in return for, or even in appreciation for, the grant. It's a commplicated kind of case to make.


Kennedyville: Hi Ruth,

I always enjoy your columns, and usually agree with you. I could not believe yesterday's fairy princess column was yours. Did a colleague write it and append your name to it as a joke?

Like you, I am very near Caroline Kennedy's age. I have long admired her intellect, her class, and her ability to do good work behind the scenes while keeping herself and her children out of the public eye. That's why it was so significant and newsworthy when she came out with her Obama endorsement.

However, I am from Massachusetts, and have had it with Kennedys being elected because they're Kennedys. Patrick K. was barely out of Providence College before he was won his first election in Rhode Island, where he now serves as congressman. Joe K. is widely known as . . . not real bright. Based on interviews I've heard with Robert Jr. (whom I admire for his environmental work), he is too volatile and emotional to serve effectively (just get him started on the Cape Wind project and watch his environmental credibility fly away).

I would be sorely disappointed to see Caroline become just another pol. I know on some level that it all comes down to money and influence, which she has in spades, but I don't usually see it laid out so baldly. Too bad. There aren't a lot of people left to admire.

Ruth Marcus: Nope, sorry, that was me. If everyone agreed with every column, i suspect I wouldn't be doing my job, but there were certainly a number of people who had your reaction. It has always seemed to me, to be blunt, that Caroline got more than her share of the smarts in that generation. I share, for example, and probably exceed, some of your concerns about RFK Jr. But I think Caroline might have what it takes to be a great, or at least very good, senator. And maybe we'll see.


re: larry summers: I think that Mr. Summers tried to start a discussion, but didn't get to finish it. I do think that men and women learn differently, and math and science have been taught by men to men for centuries - and the best and brightest women stuck with it, but it is more difficult for women given the way those subjects are taught.

--said by a woman who has a master's degree in math.

Ruth Marcus: I would highly recommend that everybody who's interested actually take the time to read Summers' comments. He had some completely important ideas about how to help improve the current situation of underrepresentation of women, which he described as a problem. My favorite was that he questioned why colleges pay for factuly members' kids to go to college but don't help them with child care expenses when kids are young.


I'm going to spend much of the rest of my day trying to talk to people and read on this subject to figure out whether the only reasonable answer is to relax and breathe. : I like your style, extremely smart, witty and thoughtful..Thanks for the chats, very reasoned responses. No question, just thanks, your dues paying was worth it.

Ruth Marcus: Thanks


Washington, D.C.: Caroline Kennedy has zero campaign skills. Not only can she not read a speech, she cannot even make a stump speech. She will draw numerous, politically competent Republicans into the special election in 2010. If she survives that, which is highly unlikely, then she will make New York a battleground state for Obama in 2012. If she's losing by double-digits in June of 2012, she could potentially pull down the national ticket. After all, what happens to the map when New York becomes a battleground is not inspiring.

I see very few Democrats who can fill that seat successfully through 2012, one being of course Hillary Clinton, the incumbent, but even she needed six years to prepare for the re-election, and her war vote in 2002 assured that no big Republicans would challenge her. Paterson's choice will not have six years and a clear issue that unites all New Yorkers.

Ruth Marcus: Been a while since New York had a Republican senator. (And the last one may not have been the best advertisement for due paying, come to think of it.) Or voted for a Republican president even if it had a Republican governor. So I'm not sure I really agree with the battleground analysis.


Re: feminism: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Because your last few columns have suggested that (1) women aren't smart enough to do science and (2) we should view potential female Senators as "princesses in fairy tales."

A bit backwards, no?

Ruth Marcus: I completely totally unequivocally consider myself a feminist. And, please, do go back and read those columns. I think you are seriously overstating what both of them said.


Albany, N.Y.: You've written recently that the government needs to adopt an attitude of "new sobriety." Are you at all familiar with Keynesian economic theory, which suggests the opposite, that the government should spend a lot during a recession to stimulate the economy? And how would you respond to the economic bloggers who describe your (apparently pre-Keynesian) view as neo-Hooverism?

Ruth Marcus: On the question of my familiarity with Keynes, please see:

Economic theories come in many flavors. There are supply-siders and deficit hawks, monetarists and Marxists. As Richard Nixon once said, and the recent bipartisan bout of economic pump-priming proved, "We are all Keynesians now." John McCain has devised yet another approach to the dismal science -- "that was then, this is now."

Call it McCainsian Economics. Its seminal treatise: "The General Theory of Getting Elected."

and this:

Whose Stimulus Makes the Grade?

By Ruth Marcus

Wednesday, January 23, 2008; A19

One of the benefits of an extended presidential campaign is that it presents real-world tests for candidates. Some take the form of pop quizzes assessing contenders' instincts in a crisis. Others are more like take-home exams -- the latest, and perhaps most revealing, being competing plans for an economic stimulus.

In practical terms, this is irrelevant: The moment for stimulus will be long past by Inauguration Day. But as a way of judging how candidates view government's role, how they balance politics and policy, and how sound their thinking is on economic policy, the proposals offer a revealing report card.

My grading starts with President Bush, because he sets the curve.

Note, please, that the assumption that stimulus plans would be irrelevant come the election was that this was written long before the current economic woes when the thinking was that one good dose of stimulus would be sufficient.

My response to the bloggers? At the risk of incurring their wrath, I think they have the attention span of a gnat--forgetting previous writings on the subject except when it suits them. Of course we need a serious, large, broad-spectrum stimulus now, but my call for the New Sobriety was to use this crisis also to recognize and perhaps have more political breathing space to deal with, our long term problems.


"Relax and Breath": Given the huge advantages of incumbency, the Democratic tilt of NY, and the fact that no Democrat will want to challenge a sitting Kennedy, Paterson's appointment all but guarantees that Caroline Kennedy would win re-election.

If there were a open seat election now, it would be a fierce competition and numerous accomplished pols would have to engage with voters to win the election.

Isn't it obvious that the second scenario is far better than the first?

Ruth Marcus: noted.


Boston: Hi Ruth,

All these people wanting someone with a long history of service to NY State seem to think the NY Senate seat is a regular US Senate seat. It seems to me it is more of a celebrity position. I don't recall Bobby Kennedy or Hillary having a real connection to the state and even Pat Moynihan seems more Harvard than a NY guy.

Ruth Marcus: interesting thought.


Upstate NY native in Annandale, Va.: Patterson and every other NY pol should be lobbying to put an upstater in the HRC Senate seat...upstate NY is in economic shambles and downstaters have been giving the area lip service for the last ten years. So here's Patterson's chance to actually do something for upstate. Reps Gilligrand or Higgins would be top-notch choices.

Ruth Marcus: Gillibrand, sure that was a typo and I've certainly made my share.


shall we dance??: speaking of waltzing - now Obama has a long list (Ayres, Wright, Gov. Bla.) of people who are terrible people but linked to him. His speechwriter is a Hillary groper, his foreign adviser called her a monster and Rahm, Axelrod and Jarrett are all fresh from the Chicago finished school of hardball pols. Plus his mentor, Jones, was tied closely to Gov. Blago. What gives with the free pass -- the Kool-Aid buzz extends to associates??

Ruth Marcus: Boy you are mixing apples and oranges to compare, say, Wright's speeches and Favreau's silliness. People who want to hate and distrust Obama are free to do so, but they should do it on the basis of his actions and not remote associations with Ayers, for instance.


Washington, DC: I'm going to repeat what I said on another chat: absent her genetic makeup and famous surname, nobody with Caroline Kennedy's thin credentials would be a credible candidate for appointment to a Senatorial seat. Not even close. Handing her a Senate seat because she has the right chromosomes is not much better than Gov. Hot Rod trying to sell one. (Although at least, it's not illegal.)

Ruth Marcus: A lot better. And don't you think the name is a bigger deal than the chromosomes in this case?


New York, N.Y.: I wish I knew Caroline Kennedy's views on issues before I make a decision as to whether I support her becoming a United States Senator from New York, yet I will state that one thing I believe she would bring to the office is dignity. That alone is something that seems to be lacking among some in politics today. I could never imagine anyone attempting to buy and sell offices or making deals for contracts inside the office of Sen. Caroline Kennedy. The one thing she has brought to her work is pride and respect, and maybe that is the qualification we need in these times.

Ruth Marcus: noted.


We have special elections for House seats. : Cheaper and faster. Look the whole idea of the Senate is basically unfair. It completely breaks the one man, one vote rule. Why somebody in darkest Idaho should get many times my vote completely eludes me. Twenty-two percent of the country can elect a majority in the Senate. Compared to that, this is a molehill.

Ruth Marcus: And noted. I'm fine with the general idea of the Senate, though. We can argue about the filibuster.


Plainsboro, N.J.: RE: Did Hillary not waltz in over the heads of all the other so-called hardworking NY pols when she moved there, set up shop and ran for the Senate, primarily on name recognition alone?

Except, Hillary ran and won the race. She was not offered the senator-ship on a silver platter like it is now being suggested for Ms. Kennedy. Vast difference.

Ruth Marcus: Might be repeating myself here but no other way to have it right now than on that platter.


Ruth Marcus: So I wanted to mention something about the wonders of modern technology. I was trying to figure out how to get my daughter at school in time for a dr.'s appointment at 2:30 and also do the chat. Then I realized that I could just set up shop at school and do the chat from here. (It would probably have been a better plan if I had remembered the laptop cord.) However, the school library has a very open computer policy. Short version: technology can be family unfriendly--my kids complain about both of us on blackberries--but it can also be the working parent's best friend. In any event, thanks as always for the good questions, and back in a few weeks.



Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive