The American Nepotist Class

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics on

A nepotistic-like succession of Caroline Kennedy to the likely soon-to-be-vacated seat of Senator Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to be garnering much support, at least amongst those in the blogosphere.  The idea of expanding the Kennedy dynasty…just because…isn’t appealing to people.  Glenn Greenwald wrote last week:

The Senate alone — to say nothing of the Houseis literally filled with people whose fathers or other close relatives previously held their seat or similar high office (those links identify at least 15 current U.S. Senators — 15 — with immediate family members who previously occupied high elected office).  And, of course, the current President on his way out was the son of a former President and grandson of a former U.S. Senator.

I think Greenwald brings up a good point, and he’s not the only one.

Greenwald points out other recent examples:

In Illinois, a leading contender to replace Barack Obama in the Senate is Jesse Jackson’s son (Jesse, Jr.).  In Delaware, it was widely speculated that Joe Biden would be replaced by his son, Beau, and after Beau took his name out of the running because he’s now serving in Iraq, the naming of the actual replacement — lone-time (Joe) Biden aide Ted Kaufmann — “upset local Democrats who believe the move was a ham-handed attempt to engineer the election of Biden’s son, Beau, to the Senate in 2010.”

Meanwhile, in Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father to take his seat in the U.S. Senate when he became Governor, yesterday warned Sarah Palin not to challenge her in a 2010 primary, a by-product of tension between those two as a result of Palin’s defeat of Lisa’s dad for Governor.  In Florida, Mel Martinez’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election in 2010 immediately led to reports that the current President’s brother, Jeb, might run for that seat.  And all of that’s just from the last couple of weeks.

Like I said, it’s not just Greenwald seeing the problem.  Andrew Sullivan:

From a distance, it’s more obviously corrupt than up close. I mean: what are the odds that of all the people who could edit Commentary, the son of the former editor ends up in charge? It’s not entirely a function of the right, of course. The Kennedys were as bad.

Jane Hamsher @ FireDogLake:

She’s proven she can kill an unflattering story and pull strings to get Rupert Murdoch’s kid into private kindergarten, so she’s no stranger to exercising power.  But I’ll feel a bit better about the idea of another Senator Kennedy when she hits the road in upstate New York, presses the flesh with voters, listens to their concerns, answers their questions and proves she can stand up to the rigors of the campaign trail.

The problem is not so much the children of former politicians following in their parents/uncles/aunts/significant other’s/grandparents (because eventually they’d have to run on their own merits), but getting into a position just because they’re the son/niece/nephew/grandchild/significant other of a former Senator/Representative/Governor.  Which is what would happen if Caroline Kennedy would be appointed to the Senate.  Or if Beau Biden took his father’s seat.  Or if Jesse Jackson, Jr. took Obama’s seat.

There’s of course an argument that being a relation of a former politican makes it easier to get into office due to name recognition.  There is some merit to that point.  It was one that’s been leveled against Clinton at times over the past eight years.  After all, if her husband hadn’t been president, could she have gotten into office so quickly?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

The idea of another Clinton presidency eight years after the last was one of my arguments against her winning the primary.  If it were the case that she’d have won, I’d rather have seen McCain as president, bringing in a fresh face to the office, rather than a potential 28 years of a Bush-Clinton duopoly.  Not the only reason, of course, but it was quite a weighty one for me.

The idea of so many political dynasties being established (apart from the ones already in existance) may underline a problem in American politics.  We may not have a nobility in this country.  No House of Lords here.  But the idea that someone could get into office at least partially based on name recognition is a problem.  The fact we keep seeing many of the same names in politics is another, though it’s the weaker issue of the two.

If they can in on their own merits, then fine.  That is, after all, the American dream.  Working your way up to success.  But if someone is trying to use the position their relative had in order to attain power of their own, do they have any place ascending to an elected position?

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