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Caroline Amid the Great Unwashed December 21, 2008

Posted by Kate Ryan in Democrats, popular culture, US Senate.
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Caroline Kennedy and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown
Caroline Kennedy and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown

If you live anywhere north of the Catskill mountains in New York State – “upstate”, which probably constitutes 70% of the land area – you are used to being treated like some sort of a rube.  Probably 50% of the population and all the power in New York resides downstate in New York City and its suburbs.  If you live in Western New York, even Albany acts as if you were the resident of some remote foreign outpost.  Quite frankly, you may as well be, as the desires and needs of upstaters are routinely patronized and ignored by the New York government.

Entering into this weird state dichotomy is Caroline Kennedy, who apparently wants to be the Senator from New York upon Hillary Clinton’s ascendency to Secretary of State.  The media is fawning all over Ms. Kennedy, discussing what kind of Senator she would be and if she would be able to handle the public scrutiny she has spent years avoiding.  According to many news reports, she should be selected for the seat because of her prodigious fund-raising ability and her personal relationship with President-Elect Obama.  There is some skepticism regarding her credentials and some rumbling about “birthright” politics, but only Rep. Peter King, Republican from Long Island, has had the nuts to bluntly say she is unqualified.  On “Hardball with Chris Matthews” the other day, Matthews briefly touched upon the fact that nobody knows her positions on the issues, but then immediately went to “she’s a Democrat from New York.  Everyone knows her positions.”  I am assuming this to mean that they figure she’s a wild-eyed liberal.  That’s what everyone believes about New York politicians.  They couldn’t be more wrong.

The most successful politicians in New York State are centrists, whether they be Republicans or Democrats.  If you are running here for statewide office, you’d better be.  While New York City may be a hotbed of Progressive and Liberal politics, the rest of the state is most certainly not. Upstate and Western New York is older, poorer, more rural, and very conservative on social issues.  While the cities of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo may have a Democratic edge, Republicans are routinely elected to state and local offices and don’t have a hard time winning Congressional seats. 

Caroline Kennedy will have a hard row to hoe here.  Because this area has been largely ignored by state and national politicians, there is a great distrust of any downstater seeking office.  In addition, people here are mostly working class and resent the sort of “nobless oblige”quality Ms Kennedy brings to the table.  The notions of an American aristocracy do not sit well with the lunch bucket crownd.

Ms. Kenndy’s advisers have apparently hipped her to this as she made an a whirlwind tour of Western New York on Wednesday.   Arriving here in Buffalo (in a Toyota Sequoia – a faux pas of epic proportions), she spent a half an hour “listening” to the mayor and local leaders before sweeping out again.  Ms. Kennedy answered three – count ’em, three – questions and seemed to have trouble remembering where exactly she was.  “It feels great,” she said, then paused before adding, “to be back in Buffalo.”

In 2000, upstaters were not happy that the former First Lady Hillary Clinton carpetbagged her way into the Senate.  If Rudy Giuliani had not dropped out of that race, Mrs. Clinton probably would not have been elected.  In the intervening years it has seemed as if Senator Clinton only used the New York Senate seat to further her own Presidential ambitions. The only accomplishment upstaters will cite is her intervention on behalf of the Reserve Air Force base in Niagara Falls.  But credit for saving the base invariably goes to outgoing Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds. None of us seem to see much difference in Caroline Kennedy.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle asked, “what does she know about upstate?”  History has shown us that it probably doesn’t matter.



1. Auto Industry Bailout » Blog Archive » Caroline Amid the Great Unwashed « Kate’S Kitchen Table - December 21, 2008

[…] In 2000, upstaters were not happy that the former First Lady Hillary Clinton carpetbagged her way into the Senate . If Rudy Giuliani had not dropped out of that race, Mrs. Clinton probably would not have been elected. …[Continue Reading] […]

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