Our politics have become such a sick and nasty sport that many of the best people in the nation choose not to subject themselves to the venom, vitriol, slanders, demeaning and character assassination of seeking public office. Of course Chris Matthews would never have run for the Senate, a prospect that was never more than a contract ploy with NBC, for a plush Washington life where it is far more comfortable to sit in a studio recycling pundit bromides than entering the arena of America in crisis.

I am not faulting Chris. He might have made a good senator, and I might have even supported him. Chris made the smart move. If you can make a few million bucks being wrong more often than right, with no responsibility, being a megaphone for the insults of our age rather than a target of them, why not?

The insulting, jealous, envious, lowball treatment given to Caroline Kennedy only proves again why many good people choose not to participate, and now we know what happens when one combines the tabloid style of the New York press with the roaring glee of dirt-mongering from the national pundit class that does not discuss at length economics, or Middle East peace, or policy in Afghanistan because they know nothing about these matters, and prefer to relish with joy the dirt dished against those who dare to enter the arena.

Remember when we were told that Caroline lacked experience? Besides the fact that long activity in the Washington snakepit is not exactly the kind of experience needed by a nation in crisis, the final choice is now known, and it is someone who served a grand total of one term in the House; who is known for little more than being a Democrat in the pocket of the gun lobby; who now holds a seat in the Senate once held by a man whose assassination demonstrated yet again the need for rational gun control.

Caroline Kennedy would have made a fantastic senator. She embodies a dignity and idealism and civic spirit and good will that are urgently needed in our democracy. She would have had huge clout in the Senate, been a shoo-in for reelection (unlike the governor and new senator, who will both be challenged in primaries). Caroline embodies a tradition of purpose in public life that America and New York could use more of. Caroline embodies a nobility of purpose in public life that is far too often a lost art in a system far too populated by careerists, opportunists, windbags and pay-for-play practitioners, from the Windy City to the capital city.

It would have good if Chris had left the safety of the studio to enter the arena and abandoned the platitudinous life of the pundit and told us what he would actually do to solve the problems facing the nation.

It would have been even better if Caroline Kennedy had brought her considerable gifts to the Senate and elevated our discourse and our democracy while she powerfully represented New York in ways more uplifting than being the front woman for the gun lobby in the seat once held by Robert Kennedy.

And finally, a word of sadness for Andy Cuomo, perhaps the most qualified candidate of them all, who was, unfortunately, born a male, which was disqualifying in our age of identity politics.

Don’t cry for Andy, though — something tells me he will be heard from in 2010, and don’t cry for Caroline, either, because the cream ultimately rises to the top, and she will be heard from far sooner than people think.