The Radical Middle
(yadda yadda yadda)
I was eating dinner at the Waterfront last week, sitting in the Damon’s Grill clubhouse and scarfing down a couple of sliders, when a giant graphic on the bottom of the CNN feed caught my attention. (Quick aside: I have never, in all the times I’ve eaten at Damon’s, seen one of the big screens tuned to CNN. It’s as if the Obama Administration has become a new spectator sport.) Beneath some B-roll of Caroline Kennedy walking on the streets of New York City, the text read: DOUBLE STANDARD?
I, who should have known better, thought they were referring to the lack of in-depth reporting about the circumstances surrounding her in-and-out-and-all-about flirtation with, campaign for, and withdrawal from consideration for the open New York senate seat. Especially amid the kind of salacious rumors that arose in those final few hours — the kind that, for a male public figure, almost certainly would have meant some more probing and digging into his personal life.
But oh, no.
What our friends at CNN were asking — I couldn’t hear the report, but I could tell from the text and the graphic on-screen — was whether Caroline Kennedy, author, socialite, scion of a popular former president, whose most glowing qualifications for office were her fame and a near-dynastic, American-political-and-monarchical powerhouse of a surname, had been the victim of SEXISM. You know, because some people had opposed her appointment to the U.S. Senate. Because some people had, with all the indelicate utterance of the obvious they could muster, suggested that a woman with politics in her blood but not on her resume, someone who’d never been elected to public office, who’d never show much of an interest or inclination to be so, and who, since her recent conversion, had seemed oddly inarticulate and unconvincing in her attempts to explain it, might not be the best pick for that political seat.
Imagine, if you will, that Jerry Seinfeld had announced his interest in Hillary Clinton’s senate seat. Bright and personable guy. Social and cultural icon of roughly the same age. Likewise tremendously wealthy. Also written a couple of books. Supports many charities, does plenty of charity work of his own. Possessed of no prior political interest or experience whatsoever. (And never mind that, unlike Ms. Kennedy, he did not have fame and fortune bequeathed to him, but had to work and scrape and scramble for years to attain it, and now never seems to freeze or stutter or stammer when put on the spot and asked soft questions by the media.)
Does anyone think his ambition, his rank and obvious presumption, his sudden eagerness to trade one form of privilege and access for another, would not have been met with protest? That his possible appointment, much less his backroom celebrity maneuvering to attain it, would not have produced some sort of opposition? A hue and (out)cry at least as vehement as — and likely much louder than — the voices who rose and spoke against Ms. Kennedy?
If so, would we have been asked to wonder whether Mr. Seinfeld had fallen victim to sexism? To reverse sexism? To anti-Semitism? To anti-sitcomism?
Probably not. We would, I imagine, have secured ourselves in the knowledge that this man, this person, this popular but obviously unqualified celebrity had been judged, at least by some people, the wrong pick for the position.
Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that.