Caroline Kennedy’s political ambitions were supposed to be over.
In recent years, the only daughter of the 30th president of the United States has thrived in her previous roles as president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, philanthtropist, literacy volunteer in New York City schools, and book editor. Her newest book, Poems to Learn By Heart, her second anthology for children, was called by Publishers Weekly “a stellar compilation” and includes the verses of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Nikki Grimes, Linda Sue Park, and Gary Soto, in addition to older sources such as the Bible and the entire Gettysburg Address.
That last inclusion is perhaps the only one that evokes a lost president, and might thus remind some of us of the young blond girl who lost her father to assassination in 1963. Kennedy’s long record of support for President Barack Obama, starting when he first became a candidate in 2006, bespeaks an interest in contemporary power, even though she withdrew her name in 2009 from consideration for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.
Now, according to the political press in Washington, Kennedy is again being vetted for an appointment—as ambassador to Japan, a role that would fulfill a family tradition. “Kennedy’s grandfather, and the dynasty’s patriarch, served as ambassador to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940. Her aunt Jean Ann Kennedy Smith served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Ireland,” the Washington Postwrites. While the White House is so far refusing to confirm these reports, that hasn’t ended the buzz.
Bloomberg Businessweek speculates that Kennedy could help close Japan’s gender gap, reporting that Seiko Noda of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party “welcomed the possibility that Kennedy would become envoy, adding she was inspired to get into politics by the career of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.” Fox News reported concern in the House of Representatives about Kennedy’s lack of experience in Asia, but conceded that there was an upside: “Mireya Solis, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Wall Street Journal, “It seems to me that when you want an ambassador, two very important assets are proximity to the president—which she clearly has—and visibility.”
Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor quoted Takashi Koyama of Akita International University: “This will be welcomed by the Japanese people. The fact that she is the daughter of J.F.K., who is fondly remembered in Japan, will give her a very positive image.”
Kennedy’s appointment, if it happens, would make her one of many powerful women just joining the administration, including Julia Pierson at the Secret Service and Gina McCarthy as administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, Kennedy’s time in Japan would, of course, follow the just completed term of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose landmark tenure made supporting women’s rights a central foreign-policy goal. Kennedy, too, could become a force for women. “Where an ambassador can make a real difference in bilateral relations is in highlighting issues that are not necessarily being pushed forward by her bosses at the State Department,” adds Shihoko Goto of the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Asia Program.
Kennedy should use her platform, Gotu writes, to catalyze progress for women in both Japan and the U.S. “According to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 gender equity survey, [Japan] ranks in 101st place among 135 countries,” she adds. “Given Kennedy’s high profile, she could shed light on the issue and push for concrete action. And by being humble and acknowledging America’s failings in promoting women to leadership positions, Kennedy would avoid the label of trying to impose U.S. values on her host country.”
As she waits for word from the White House, we hope that Kennedy is considering for her next good read a book by the 1th-century author Lady Sarashina, As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams. Her next step, it seems, is to both cross that bridge and be the bridge.
ABC News reports on Kennedy’s potential as U.S. Ambassador to Japan
Chris Lombardi lives and writes in Philadelphia. Her book, I Ain't Marching Anymore, will be published by University of California Press.