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Caroline Kennedy Withdrawal: Not Good For Women in Politics

Feb 23, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

Upon hearing about Caroline Kennedy's abrupt withdrawal from contention for the New York Senate seat, a male political colleague remarked to me: "Shouldn't she have just stayed in the race like a man and faced being passed over?" The implication was that Kennedy was not going to be selected by Governor Paterson and withdrew her name as a face saving measure.

The problem now is that some are deriding her herky-jerky interest in the Senate seat and whispering "well that's a woman for you." The idea that her change of heart is somehow inextricably linked to feminine qualities is exactly the type of sexism that unfortunately has been pervasive in how people view women candidates. Wonder why the Unites States ranks 70th in the world in terms of women in elected office or why women are the majority vote in the past two US Presidential races (by more than 9 million votes to men in both the 2004 and 2008 Presidential races) yet women only hold 25% of elected office in the nation?

Caroline Kennedy, from the brief interactions I had with her, was reserved and rather shy. I think that after two months of the klieg lights shining on her, coupled with recent statements Governor Paterson made that suggested he had had a change of heart and might be favoring NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and her uncle's ill health, all made her decide to withdraw.

I personally wish she would not have withdrawn, not because I thought her performance was so stellar in the last two months, but rather because it is unfortunate that now many will use her gender as some type of explanation for her erratic behavior, and that does not bode well for women in politics.

Her gender is not why she made the decision to withdraw. In my view, she did not have the temperament or the real interest in the seat in the first place. When asked by the New York Times in December why she wanted to run for the Senate, she was not able to provide a cogent answer. Having the requisite fire in your belly and passion to represent New York, as was clearly evidenced by Hillary Clinton, are necessary requirements for the job. And that has nothing to do with being a woman.