It now seems certain that the Senate will confirm Caroline Kennedy as America’s ambassador to Japan. She faced no problems or challenges during her confirmation hearings, so the only question is not whether the full Senate will approve her but how soon.
When President Obama first nominated Ms. Kennedy in July, there was ample commentary about the political reasons he might have had for selecting her (national co-chair for his 2012 campaign, for example) and her lack of diplomatic experience. Since then, others have made more positive predictions about the job she will do. William Brooks, a retired foreign service officer now at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies, wrote that she was “a wonderful choice to be the new U.S. ambassador to Japan.” Diluting any criticism was the judgment of the Japanese establishment that Ms. Kennedy’s assets, such as her direct access to President Obama, will outweigh any liabilities she might have.
But there is another message floating out there, amid all the noise about Ms. Kennedy’s nomination and predictions about her likely performance. First of all, she is the first woman ambassador to Japan, a country that could do a lot more than it has to tap the contributions that its own female citizens can make to Japanese national life. Then there is the fact that she is the sole surviving member from John Kennedy’s immediate family. He, of course, was America’s first Roman Catholic president and the grandson of Irish immigrants. Finally, the President who picked Ms. Kennedy to be his personal representative to the government and people of Japan is America’s first African-American president. That is, she and he each convey something very special about America: its openness to peoples from all parts of the globe and its willingness, sooner or later, to evaluate individuals on the basis of their talents and not on the basis of gender, racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice. The value that America places on inclusiveness is part of America’s soft power, a positive example message for all countries, including Japan and the United States itself.