Caroline Kennedy’s “you knows” turn into “You? No.”

(Updated) Caroline Kennedy’s interview with The Daily News complete with the words “you know” interjected five 200 plus times in two sentences a half hour may very well derail her chances to be appointed to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. While her friends describe her as being shy my view as a therapist is that she may be pathologically shy. In other words, her shyness is may be* a symptom of some kind of phobia.

“I’m really coming into this as somebody who isn’t, you know, part of the system, who obviously, you know, stands for the values of, you know. I know how important it is to, you know, to be my own person. And, you know, and that would be obviously true with my relationship with the mayor.”
Read article

Added 12/31/08: More reasons why the “you knows” ( and now we have a count: about 200 in a half hour ) can turn into “You? No.”

It’s not about Kennedy’s qualifications. It’s about the perception. For Paterson it’s about her developing into a winner for the 2010 election. I think she can. But it’s up to the governor and he may not.

This is from Margaret Carlson:

Now Kennedy is out there without a script, prompter or even notes and getting hammered in the tabloids for meandering, vague responses. In a 30-minute session with The New York Daily News, Kennedy said “you know” more than 200 times.

On tax cuts: “Well, you know, that’s something, obviously, that, you know, in principle and in the campaign, you know, I think that, um, the tax cuts, you know, were expiring and needed to be repealed.”

Read article

Sometimes phobias can be ignored with little effect on a person’s life. For example if you are terrified of flying, take the train or drive. If you are afraid of crowds, don’t shop at WalMart, get your bargains by ordering online.

But, for example, if you must fly in order to keep your job, if you have high motivation behavioral therapy is very effective, as it is for many phobias.

Caroline Kennedy hasn’t “paid her dues” for entry by appointment into the exclusive Senate club by holding elected office, which is the customary way. If she had, she would have been forced to overcome her shyness, possibly through therapy under the more acceptable guise of public speaking coaching.

The perception that she wasn’t ready for prime time would have been apparent by her just trust me interview with The Daily News even without her interjecting “I know” so many times.

Those who have worked closely with Kennedy are effusive in their praise for her competence and her commitment to the causes she has worked on. It is apparent she overcame enough of her shyness to achieve the goals she set out for herself.

If as I suspect, she hasn’t been in treatment for shyness, as a therapist I question her judgment and self awareness for not dealing with this when she first began to think about becoming a politician.

As Sarah Palin demonstrated, if you exude self-confidence you can get away with fractured sentences and the regular use of endearing-to-some “by gollys”.

Unfortunately for Caroline Kennedy, in public speaking “you know” is another version of “ummm” or “uh”, and frequent use of these interjections conveys a lack of confidence.

In politics perception counts. Lack of confidence is generally perceived as lack of competence.

George W. Bush proved that if you come across as “the decider” you can get away with murdering the English language for years before your incompetence catches up with you.

*amended. I didn’t mean to suggest this was for certain.

Hal Brown is a clinical social worker and former mental health center director who is mostly retired from his private psychotherapy practice. He writes on the psychopathology of public figures and other topics that pique his interest. He can be found online at . He also publishes a website about his hometown of Middleboro, Massachusetts (aka Middleborough) called Middleboro Matters. Archive: of previous columns.

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  1. Kibitzer

    Glad I had a chance to hear her directly in this blog (it gave me a feel for the woman behind the name); thanks for that link, Hal, and your thoughts on the subject. FWIW: I found myself more interested in what she said between the ‘you knows’ and ‘ums’ than in those interjections. And I have to say that for me she came across quite articulate there.

    It could be a ‘generational’ thing, as someone has suggested, from her conversations with her children; this younger generation does that sort of thing a lot; you know? And LOL, it was amusing hearing her interviewer use the same locution (so maybe that gave her a sort of, you know, permission to talk the way she talks with her kids).

    So: She would need to brush up on her public speaking. But her writing obviously verifies that she can think clearly. But I’m aware that I’m giving her a lot of benefit of the doubt, here, because personally I would like to see her come out of the closet and make a move on the political scene. For one main reason: to open the door on the unfinished business in American politics & history of the assassination of her father and brother. And yes, I said clearly, her brother too.

    We have some healing to engage in regarding our past. Healing, of the fact that some arrogant people in the country have sold out the high hopes of the American republic, and dragged it in the mud, like a tarnished flag; and we need to acknowledge that in our national psyche, and do a purge. And THEN we can move on. Which we can’t do yet, for just this sort of reason: that we haven’t faced our shadow.

    And you can round on me, now, if you want, Hal, from your training. But I think I speak the truth. Thus, I support her move out now into the light of this new day aborning – especially with the hope for meaningful change that Obama has lit in the bosom of the country.

  2. Hal Brown

    I will only round on you for apparently not reading my column Why (I want) Caroline Kennedy to be senator: Think 2016.

    My opinion hasn’t changed.

    Lot’s of people bristle at the thought of getting therapy, and who knows maybe she has been in treatment or is just starting. If her shyness is a problem that gets in the way of achieving her new goals for her sake I hope so.

    There are several people who read my columns just waiting for me to come across as a pompous shrink so they can jump all over me. Methinks they have some (dare I say) issue about the profession I’ve devoted my entire professional life to.

    Am I pompous? If anyone thinks that they’ve never met the really pompous shrinks I’ve met over the years.

  3. claypigeonbx

    I find a possible phobia far less off-putting than a raging obsession. And I would be very pleased to see Caroline Kennedy appointed to the Senate from New York. The fact that she has not “come through the ranks” in a political sense, is, for me, a point in her favor. I have a sense that she may well prove to be even more progressive than our President-elect. And having lived in New York since 1963, she can hardly be considered a carpetbagger.

    Freedom and Justice for All!

  4. Hal Brown

    New: More reasons why the “you knows” ( and now we have a count: about 200 in a half hour ) can turn into “You? No.”

    It’s not about Kennedy’s qualifications. It’s about the perception. For Paterson it’s about her developing into a winner for the 2010 election. I think she can. But it’s up to the governor and he may not.

    This is from Margaret Carlson:

    Now Kennedy is out there without a script, prompter or even notes and getting hammered in the tabloids for meandering, vague responses. In a 30-minute session with The New York Daily News, Kennedy said “you know” more than 200 times.

    On tax cuts: “Well, you know, that’s something, obviously, that, you know, in principle and in the campaign, you know, I think that, um, the tax cuts, you know, were expiring and needed to be repealed.”

    Read article

  5. AustinRanter

    HAPPY NEW YEAR, Hal to you and yours. I appreciate all you’ve contributed to this site over this very wild past year.



  6. almandine

    Well, Hal –

    The “You Knows” seem more a product of fuzzy thinking than phobia… unless it’s the fear of having to defend one’s ideas that is the issue. Maybe Caroline is just a wee bit too wet behind the ears to be effective as a Senator. (Maybe not, comparatively speaking.) Given her (lack of) erudition at her current age, it seems like 2016 is a bit too ambitious to think she can become another JFK… which is probably the widespread expectation.

  7. colocritic

    Interesting. She has done a fair amount of public speaking but maybe she has always had a script to follow. I noticed the “you knows” when I heard that same thing on the news and was quite surprised by it. Is she not comfortable in putting herself out there, thus the stammering “you knows?” Are there those that are pushing her forward before she is ready or is it strictly her choice?

    It seems the younger kids say this phrase all the time and it becomes habit – maybe her kids do this and she has picked it up not realizing she’s doing it. It is terribly annoying to listen to those that speak this way. We know Palin CAN speak, somewhat intelligently, but she certainly fell short in her interview with Catie Couric.

    Perhaps it is shyness or she was nervous or not prepared to speak that day, but I agree, she fell short. She probably would do a good job, if she is appointed, but would need to brush up on her speaking ability. She seems to be very bright and, I think, would be dedicated. If my memory serves me correctly, she did pass the bar exam on the first try. Didn’t she get married shortly after graduating from college and has not held a job then or at least not for a long time? If she is chosen, we need to give her a fair chance. She certainly would be as good as or far better than some already in the senate!


  8. AustinRanter

    The focus on Ms. Kennedy is the typical media exploitation and/or inflation of an otherwise lackluster slice of the political world.

    Everyone seems to examine Ms. Kennedy in such a manner as an attempt to root out those political qualities of those that have made her father and uncles so notorious.

    I suggest that Ms. Kennedy is her own person apart from the Kennedy legacy…and whether or not she possesses the necessary skills or talents that would benefit her constituent base, and the nation, is her burden to prove.

    What is missing in this polticial dilemma for the Senate seat in New York is variety of choice.

  9. RSW

    Well, you know, as I remember, you know, this seems to be a trait of the Kennedy family when they extemporize.

    Who cares, unless you have a teenager, and you’ve gotten tired of the phrase.

    As to my own feelings on the issue of CK being appointed senator. Why? There are plenty of New Yorkers more than qualified and aware of their state’s needs to serve in this capacity. We don’t need another Kennedy emigrant from another state to serve the Eastern Establishment’s needs. There is nothing Holy about this family. Not to mention any of the other anointed politicians that we put up with.

    Of course, senators haven’t served their states’ needs since the Seventeenth Amendment, anyway, so what do I care about this. Perhaps it’s a non-issue.


  10. Hal Brown

    I don’t don’t dispute that there may be equally or more qualified Democrats to fill the NY senate seat. However to keep the facts straight, it is my understanding that she’s been a resident of New York since she worked there as an intern for The Daily News in 1977.


  11. Cosmic Surfer

    I understand that our writer is a retired “clinical social worker” BUT ANYONE in that profession who makes such judgments on the pathology of an individual based on a televised interview and possibly one or two media statements about Ms Kennedy’s shyness needs to be called up short.
    Armchair psychology is a danger and this writer, unless knowing Ms Kennedy or having had a significant review of documentation and/or significant occasion to watch her for quite a long time, is not qualified to make any statement about the psychopathology that may or may not exist.
    This is not only unfair to Ms Kennedy but it is unfair to the people who buy into his fantasy.
    The mental health profession has enough charlatans and cretins, we don’t need to inject another fantasy into the mix to create and further the mystique surrounding the field by a so-called professional that is attempting to bring questions to the minds of millions about Ms Kennedy’s abilities using his “profession” and jargon to justify his bias.
    To address any possible concern as to my stance or bias, I have no opinion as to Ms Kennedy’s abilities since I only know what I have read and have seen in an interview. I make no judgment and know I have no qualifications to do so unlike our writer
    Social Workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals are not magic….Just like a doctor cannot diagnose breast cancer by watching a woman walk through a door, or an architect cannot tell if a roof leaks by looking at pictures of a constructed building in a newspaper, I submit that Mr. Brown has no ability to evaluate Ms Kennedy on the basis of an interview when he clearly is against her appointment and is thus using his psycho-babble to justify that view. He knows only what has been reported in a very biased media and has a preconceived bias towards the subject.
    I suggest that all readers take anything stated here by Mr. Brown and even me with a massive ton of salt….
    He would have done better by you and the rest of the reading public by keeping his profession (or former “profession”) out of it entirely. He is no more or no less qualified to make a judgment than any other man or woman on the street and quite possibly less so

  12. Jim Shelton

    Maybe she was simply suffering from inexperience as an interviewee?…and was perhaps a little nervous. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and stop the armchair psychology. If her actions are effective and she gets results, what difference does it make how many times she says “you know”? Our current President has not been the most articulate public official on record.

  13. Hal Brown

    I am not against her appointment as anyone who read the column I wrote a few weeks ago would know.

    Myself and others sometimes use their knowledge of psychology to write about public figures, living and dead. I wrote many columns on Capitol Hill Blue applying what I learned in my 40 some years of practice to politicians like Bush and the two Clintons, who I never met.

    Many famous therapists have done similarly, from Freud who wrote about Leonardo da Vinci and Moses, to Erik Erikson who wrote about Martin Luther, and a few years ago Justin Frank, the psychoanalyst who wrote “Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President”.

    There’s even a sub-branch of academic study generally in history departments whose practitioners are sometimes called psychohistorians. Many, if not the majority, of biographers delve quite deeply into the psychology of their subjects. Some might say that Shakespeare was the greatest psychohistorian of all time.

    Of course I am a mere ant next to giants like Freud, Erikson and Shakespeare, although I did I come to many of the same conclusions about George W. Bush as Justin Frank did prior to my reading his book.

    What comes across to me as a diatribe from Cosmic Surfer against applying knowledge of psychology to public figures puzzles me. I could see this coming after reading a column like the one where I attempted to justify an unflattering diagnosis or two for George W. Bush. What I wrote about Caroline Kennedy was hardly meant as an indictment of her.

  14. AustinRanter

    Given that process of selection of New York’s open Senate seat is left up to Gov. Paterson, we can’t forget that 2010 is just around the corner and my best guess is that Ms. Kennedy will be a contender if Paterson doesn’t seat her now. The voters are going to have to exercise some inspection of the facts and utilize critical thinking skills.

    If Paterson does select Ms. Kennedy then he’ll be the bearer of a possible political error if she fails to meet the same expectations, responsibilities, and accountability that Ms. Clinton has carried thoughout her participation in the Senate.

    I’m way more concerned about voter mentality and intellect than Ms. Kennedy’s. If she is elected because of her bloodline, then something is terribly wrong.

    If voters are sucked in by all of the media hype…then again, something is terribly wrong.

    In the end, Ms. Kennedy bears the burden of proof that she is a capable, and really even more so than her competitors, to take on the NY Senate seat. It’s up to the voters to weigh her claims against those of other possible candidates.

  15. remoran

    “Never stop questioning.” Einstein

    I don’t know if she’s qualified but I do know if I heard somebody say ‘You Know’ five times in two paragraphs, I would say to that person, after the third time, that “I don’t know, please explain it to me.” The “You Know” conversation crutch drives me crazy as it appears that the person saying it lacks the ability to articulate anything of substance, something Bush displayed in abundance during his 8 years as the Master of Disaster during the 2000 ‘aughts.

  16. ckaye99

    Who do you think you’re kidding, Brown? I can’t believe you are a bona fide therapist and see phobic behavior in someone saying “you know”. You are pulling a George Will, covering your agenda with a subjective application of pedantic bullshit. Why don’t you cut it?

    It’s not that I am so eager to see her occupy the seat – I’m just tired of this kind of bullshit. Why don’t you say out loud what your objection really is?

    For the record, you knows, uh huhs, reallys, etc., are commonly used in human speech to give the person speaking a moment to collect his or her thoughts, or as a bridge to another thought/idea. I’ve heard brilliant people perform these verbal hiccups regularly. NO BIG DEAL.

  17. Hal Brown

    Generally I’d delete such a post without comment because it lacks civility. I am leaving it because you make some good points that I want to address.

    You will not use profanity on any comment to my columns. You will treat all those who comment, and me, with respect. You will not address me by my last name. Hal is fine.

    There is much more to my column than her use of the words “you know”. The quote under discussion was widely reported in the media and used by many to illustrate their opinion that she was not ready to be a senator, hence the title of my column.

    She is well known to be a shy person and my point, clear to anyone who objectively read my short column, is that shyness can be a symptom of an easily treated phobia. If someone has a phobia, or just is too shy to handle the job they aspire to, I question their judgment for not seeking therapy to overcome the problem if it becomes a hinderance to reaching their goal.

    Brilliant people are as human as anybody else. Aside from severely debilitating psychiatric disorders which don’t respond to medication, they can and often do function at as high a level and their peers without such disorders.

    As mental health experts identify previously undiagnosed disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome and temporal lobe epilepsy, the psychohistorians I wrote about in a previous comments are looking at historical figures and recognizing symptoms that strongly suggest some very famous people had disorders we didn’t even know existed 20 years ago.

    As for an agenda, you might want to read my column from a few weeks ago about Caroline Kennedy.

    Read my standards for commenting. They are far stricter than the overall CHB rules.

  18. ckaye99

    You attack me for my incivility and then you also object to me calling you Mr. Brown! That’s funny. I don’t care whether or not you delete my post – I’m just so glad you read it, and I mean it and would not change a word.

    If you had written about what she has been doing in her professional life and her charitable work for the last 20+ years and tried to get a handle on her in that way, an aside about her speech patterns might have been tolerable. But to turn her into a phobic for saying “you know” is pretty off the wall.

    It is like you are trying to write a mini “Bush On the Couch”, excepting there is no substance, other than the utterance of “you know”. That dog won’t hunt, Mr. Brown. Try again.