Temperament aside, the flap over Burris's appointment is a phony one. As a former statewide office holder, Burris would come to the job with more public experience under his belt than Senator Ted Kennedy had garnered when Massachusetts voters first elected him at the age of 30.
The fly in the Burris anointment is, of course, disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who has the legal power and responsibility to name Obama's successor. Blagojevich's alleged innovation of seeking to sell the seat for, among other things, an additional yearly salary of up to $300,000, is without a doubt troubling, disgraceful, and wrong. The problem is that it is only alleged. Blago, as the governor is now known, has not yet been indicted, let alone convicted. His appointment of Burris should be legally binding.
Is Burris the best person for the job? Perhaps not. Is he the worst? Not by a long shot. That Burris is an African-American filling the slot of the nation's only contemporary black senator adds a complication — albeit a substantially irrelevant one — to an already elaborate equation. (Maybe Blago has a better sense of humor than Franken.)
In the final analysis, the question of who will occupy Obama's Senate seat is not about temperament, not about a probably crooked appointer, and not about race. It is about the rule of law. In the view of the Phoenix, Burris should be seated.
Better known than Burris but with a far sketchier public record and nonexistent elective one is Caroline Kennedy, who appears poised to get the nod from New York Governor David Paterson to fill Hillary Clinton's vacated Senate seat when she formally takes over her new job as secretary of state.
To apply the "Burris standard," Kennedy is certainly not the worst-qualified candidate to take over for Clinton. But she is also certainly not the best.
Given her family's tradition of public service, Kennedy may well have a greater capacity for growth than Burris. Still, what, in the final analysis, is so troubling about her appointment is her name. If Caroline were not a Kennedy — if she were, say, a Burris — it is unlikely that she would be going to Washington.
In an age when the gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown so great, the idea of privileged political dynasties — be they named Clinton, Bush, or Kennedy — should be more troubling than comforting.