After Caroline's Dismantling, Gillibrand Should Beware

Watch Your Back, Kirsten

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    As a front-runner, Caroline Kennedy had a bit of Teflon armor. After her withdrawal media hounds pounced.

    So, after nearly two months, New York Gov. David Paterson has finally ended the Hamlet pose and made up his mind: Upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand will reportedly be the next U.S. senator from the Empire State.  The pick makes sense politically in many ways: In 2006, she defeated an incumbent Republican in an upstate district where GOP voters out-poll Democrats 46-26. She won re-election overwhelmingly last year. 

    On the other hand, she is a pro-NRA gun-rights supporter in a heavily anti-gun state (hello, Plaxico Burress!). But what's most surprising is that she doesn't have a famous last name. Seriously, Hillary Clinton wasn't an anomaly. The seat she held for the last eight years was held by Robert Kennedy for four years in the late-60s and Jim Buckley, brother of William F., for six years in the early '70s. Daniel Patrick Moynihan then held it for 24 years before retiring in 2000 to be succeeded by Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

    With that history, the Caroline Kennedy candidacy made sense.

    But given what's happened in the last couple of days. Ms. Gillibrand had best watch her back if she takes this seat. Not only could she face a primary challenge in 2010 over her pro-gun stance, she should also take note of what's been happening to Kennedy since she withdrew Wednesday evening.

    It's been an all-out trashing from "sources" obviously close to the governor -- taxes, nanny, even her marriage, all suddenly come to the fore, when there had been nary a whisper in the weeks beforehand. Strangely, Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geitner's nomination is still on track, even though he failed to pay his taxes and he had a domestic whose immigration papers lapsed while in his employ. And, somehow, Kennedy's marriage is fair game? This sort of piling on via anonymous sources is stunningly unprofessional. 

    But, we've seen this sort of behavior before, visited upon another political rookie thrust into the limelight.  It happened just a few months ago with Sarah Palin. Former McCain staffers started a whisper campaign designed to paint her in the most unfavorable light even before the campaign was over. It was said she had "gone rogue" and was acting like a "diva." The wardrobe tab that had been billed to the RNC was leaked to the press. On and on it went. The idea: not merely to make her look unintelligent, but petulant and frivolous.

    Not coincidentally, these sort of stereotypes are especially damaging to professional women. The piling on of Kennedy seems of this type, especially leaked rumors about her marriage. Men can survive allegations of infidelity or womanizing, if they are discreet.  It's not that easy for a female candidate.

    So, this is how Paterson wants to resolve the Kennedy issue -- by trashing her mercilessly in the press? 

    Rep. Gillibrand may be in Paterson's good graces now.  But she might want to keep a file in her mind of what happens to a woman of some standing who crosses the governor. 

    It's not been pretty. 

    Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.