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Did Caroline Ever Really Want It?

If the news is true that Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn her bid for the Senate, then one of two things has happened. The first possibility is that David Paterson decided some days ago to go with another candidate, and gave Kennedy the opportunity to save face by withdrawing her name from consideration. You know: the old “You Can’t Fire Me! I Quit!” shtick.

The second possibility, not entirely mutually exclusive with the first, is that Kennedy was just not all that into being a senator in the first place.

The sequence of events is fairly easy to imagine:

1. Barack Obama, somewhat unexpectedly, taps Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State, creating a Senate vacancy in your home state.

2. Having gained some notoriety because of your role on Barack Obama’s campaign — not that you needed much notoriety, since you’re a Kennedy — you start to hear your name tossed about by the press and by some of your associates, all of whom are behaving with the best of intentions.

2a. Also, your uncle, one of the most famous senators in history but also someone who is gravely ill, encourages/hints/urges you to take the seat.

2b. Deep down, however, you’re conflicted. Your relatively public role on behalf of the Obama campaign went better than you thought — maybe you don’t mind the limelight so much, being so overtly involved in electoral politics. But you’re also fundamentally a fairly private person, a free spirit, and the idea of becoming a senator feels constricting. Everyone seems to want this for you more than you want it for yourself.

3. Well, maybe not everyone. New York is a very big state with a lot of very famous Democrats, and some of them want the seat instead. So if you want the seat, you’re certainly going to have to look like you want it, whether you actually want it or not.

4. And so, you embark on a media campaign and “officially” declare your interest, finding your powerful family and their powerful friends all too eager to help out. But when you’re actually put on the spot, you come across as nervous, indifferent, and underprepared — perhaps because you are nervous, indifferent, and underprepared. Your public image takes a hit. Some powerful figures in the media begin to criticize you, mocking everything from your resume to your speech patterns. You have even less privacy than you’re used to. This is exactly what you were afraid of in the first place.

5. But you’re also kind of stuck. A lot of people — the Mayor, maybe the Clintons, and certainly your uncle — have gone out on a limb for you. You could probably have the seat if you really wanted it. But you’ve never been entirely sure that you really want it. In fact, you’re not sure that you want it at all.

5a. You sort of schlep your way through your remaining media hits. Deep down, perhaps, you’re trying to sabotage your candidacy.

6. Finally, something breaks. Paterson lets you know that he’s leaning in a different direction. Or, one of your best friends sits down and has a real heart-to-heart with you. Or, you summon the courage to let your uncle know that you don’t really want the position. In any event, you withdraw your name from consideration. And you haven’t felt better in months.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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