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Dynasty Watch Goes National

Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Finally somebody besides me is getting cranky about the increasingly prominent role that family connections plays in American politics. The mentioning of Beau Biden (Joe's son) for the Senate seat in Delaware and discussion about Caroline Kennedy for Senator in New York, two Udalls elected to the Senate in 2008, as well as Jeb thinking about running for the Senate in Florida - it seems that everywhere we see the sons and daughters of prominent political leaders ascending to power as if by familial right. I've written about this subject a number of times in the past( here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). As the sheer number of posts I've written suggest, this is a very important issue to me, and, I believe, to the health of the Republic. Now a substantial percentage of dynasty candidates don't win, but plenty do, and they tend to receive a large proportion of major party nominations. I was thrilled that in 2008 we elected someone who wasn't from a political family, but what do you think the odds are that Obama's daughters or wife will be mentioned as a potential candidate in the future?

I respect, although don't always agree, about the critiques of the constitution made over at Balkinization - the Constitution is an incomplete document, and is certainly in need of revision. Might I propose a bar on immediate family members serving in elected federal office as one of the possible amendments? It's a radical step, but from where I sit something has to be done. I am less concerned with the "fairness" to those that would be excluded than to the egalitarian quality of our electoral system.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:12 AM
  • I have to disagree...with the premise, although not always the execution.

    I was very disappointed in the way Joe Biden's seat was "held" for his son. That, to me, smells quite a bit like dirty politics.

    OTOH, as much I despise the current Bush and am not overly impressed by anyone in his family, I firmly believe that it is up to the voters to decide whether or not they want him. I get the restriction of family members in appointed positions, particularly in cabinet posts. But I do think that elected positions need to be as broad as possible. Starting to set more limits there could be dangerous. I don't think a precedent should be set.

    As far as "family dynasties" go, this is also up to the voters. Just because a family's members keep running for office does not mean they are being given any special honor. They don't always win.

    And if, like the Kennedys, a family has a large percentage of members devoted to public service, how is it a bad thing to have someone raised that way in office?

    As far as the Caroline Kennedy uproar, that I don't get at all. I think she has to be at least as good a choice as probably half the people in the Senate right now anyway. She's smart and has worked hard for good causes. She's co-written a well respected book on privacy, which is an issue that will only get more important from now on and spent an enormous amount of time involved in educational issues - which have long reached the critical stage in this country.

    IMO, being elected previously to some other office is not, in itself, any kind of qualification to be a Senator. Personally, I think Caroline Kennedy is far more qualified to hold the post than Hillary Clinton was at the time of her election to that seat and that she will do a much better job than Clinton did in the time she was there.

    Basically, my point is that the seat should go to the person who would do the best job. I know that people upstate would like to be represented, but it does not necessarily follow that someone from there would be their most effective representative. I could see Caroline Kennedy bending over backward to be fair to the whole state and not just focus on Manhattan issues.

    And, finally, my biggest beef with government has always been that it has to have too many politicians and bureaucrats to run it. I'd think that an intelligent, public spirited, politically savvy individual who has not actually been mired in politics would be the perfect choice for a 2 year appointment. Then the voters can pass judgment.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 5:22 PM  
  • Thanks for the comment, Rebecca.

    I think that the fact that the voters might like voting for dynasty candidate is immaterial. Voters are ascribing the traits of one person to another because it's an easy shorthand - not because they really know anything about the person. There are instances in which we don't let voters choose candidates - for example if they're under-aged or have been President for 2 terms already, because it's just risk for a Republic to fall too in love with one person or one family. If people were psychologically disposed to familial political loyalties, then democracies wouldn't be vulnerable to creeping aristocratic politics. But they are. I mean seriously, do you REALLY believe that political talent happens to be over-represented in successful families? I think that most public offices could be performed by a large proportion of the population, so advantaging people with a particular last name just seems wrong.

    I've seen up close how dynastic politics works. It's not pretty, and it locks a lot of good people out.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 1:23 PM  
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