The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Camelot once more?

Placeholder while article actions load

They say Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line when it comes to the presidency. If so, a hint of a potential romance might be have been spotted — in Japan of all places. That is where Caroline Kennedy emerged as the U.S. ambassador to Japan and, for the first time, as a public figure in her own right, perhaps a formidable one. She’s been Caroline the daughter. She’s been Caroline the keeper of the flame. And she has been Caroline the tragic sole survivor of an immediate family obliterated by the Kennedy Curse, if there is such a thing. Granted, she got her ambassadorial post as a political debt belatedly repaid by a president first given political legitimacy on the left through endorsements from Ted Kennedy and and Caroline Kennedy in 2008, but the job is now hers, and she should make what she can of the opportunity. She got off to a strong start:

In her first week on the job, she, with a smidgen of her father’s Cold War persona, delivered a message that China should back off its territorial claims. Even more impressive might have been her campaign-style trips to local schools and her breakfast-table chats with victims of the tsunami. Not bad as far as retail politics go. She seems to have both the patience and the charm to pull off these events.

Kennedy appeared, with astonishing coincidence, just as America was wallowing in the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There is a good argument to be made that she is the only feasible inheritor of the Kennedy crown. In contrast to her clumsy and ill-conceived Senate foray, she now has a real job, a rationale and a skill set perfectly designed for a upwardly mobile Kennedy. Should she segue from Japan to a campaign for an elected post, one can imagine Democrats’ collective swoon.

From there, one can easily imagine a run for the Senate or governor (either from Massachusetts or New York). That would place her at the top of any short list for president.

What if, however, she doesn’t wait? Could Hillary Clinton be shoved from the limelight twice by Caroline Kennedy? While that might sound premature, Kennedy delivered the argument for charisma and vision over experience when she and her uncle dealt Clinton the first of many blows in the 2008 campaign. In January 2008, Kennedy wrote in the New York Times:

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.
I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

President Obama didn’t actually deliver on her dream, but who better than Kennedy to do the job? Democrats, after all, aren’t all that big on qualifications, as the incumbent president knows all too well. A true believer, a charismatic figure, a touch of a muscular foreign policy and, most of all, an alternative to the leaden predictability and political timidity of Clinton might be just the thing to reignite the Democrats’ passions. Democrats would get a liberal woman, one without baggage and without questions about age, Benghazi and a husband beholden to international money men. And maybe Obama would return the favor, endorsing her as his spiritual successor. Hey, weirder things have happened.

That is the short-term scenario, an improbable one I grant you. But it’s no more improbable than a challenge from a frumpy freshman senator with a bogus claim to Native American ancestry. Improbable alternatives tend to pop up when the “inevitable” winner fails to generate much enthusiasm and her candidacy is based more on obligation (She deserves it!) than on enthusiasm. Republicans in a similar spot would undoubtedly “fall in line” behind Clinton. But with Democrats, you never know.

Gallery: Caroline Kennedy — From first daughter to U.S. ambassador