If anything seemed like a sure thing in politics, it was Caroline Kennedy's appointment to the U.S. Senate.
The seat that is being vacated by Hillary Clinton was once held by Kennedy's uncle Bobby; her father John served in that body before becoming president, and her uncle Ted is still a lion of the Senate.
To put in mildly, Caroline Kennedy comes from a famous family and at 51 is, in some ways, a political icon. Her life has been scandal free. She is a lawyer and an author, and has helped raised millions of dollars for the schoolchildren of New York.
Nobody knew she even wanted the seat until a few weeks ago, but there seemed to be few real barriers to her getting it. The appointment is up to New York Gov. David Paterson, who holds the seat because his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, was forced to resign in a prostitution scandal. Paterson did not seem like the kind of guy who wanted to make waves.
Caroline Kennedy also had two other things going for her: If appointed now, she would presumably be able to raise astronomical amounts of money to defend the seat in 2010. Second, she is a friend of Barack Obama.
She and Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama when he badly needed their endorsement. Caroline would have a direct line to the Oval Office, and that never hurts. New Yorkers could rest assured they would get their fair share (and maybe then some) of the federal pie.
So what has gone wrong? Caroline Kennedy has found out that nobody is allowed to cakewalk their way into higher office any more.
She was expected to give interviews. She was expected to clearly and forcefully state why she wanted to be a senator and why she is better than the other potential appointees.
Kennedy, a somewhat private person, faltered. At first, she didn't give interviews. Then, when she did, they did not go well.
One of her most important interviews, with The New York Times, was a semi-disaster. The article stated in its third paragraph that, in "an extensive sit-down discussion Saturday morning with The New York Times, she still seemed less like a candidate than an idea of one: forceful but vague, largely undefined and seemingly determined to remain that way."
It got worse. There was this exchange:
"With several weeks to go before Mr. Paterson makes his decision, she is doling out glimpses of her political beliefs and private life. But when asked Saturday morning to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat, Ms. Kennedy seemed irritated by the question and said she couldn't recall."
"Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman's magazine or something?" she asked the reporters. "I thought you were the crack political team."
Ouch. There is nothing wrong with a candidate taking on her questioners, but the question seemed harmless and the answer seemed petulant or, worse, arrogant.
The public service the Kennedy family has provided this country is unquestioned. But the Kennedys have been careful to present their public service as a public obligation.
As John Kennedy put it, "For of those to whom much is given, much is required."
Caroline Kennedy can't act as if she is above the game, as if she wants a special set of easier rules for her.
She has to answer questions even the ones she doesn't think much of because that is what public service demands.
I don't have any problems with Caroline Kennedy becoming a U.S. senator. But she has to tell us why she deserves it and what she intends to do with the job. Having a famous last name is not enough.