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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Political Dynasty: Good or Bad?

Not long ago, I encountered a gentleman (?) who had some strong feelings against political dynasties in the United States. I have no real knowledge of this individual other than the fact that he is an educator who was attending the annual conference of the Assocition of Educational Service Agencies this past December. I was sitting at a large round table at a conference general session that was preceded by a luncheon with my group from Lucas County Ohio. During lunch and prior to the general session itself, I was having a conversation with them about the possibility Caroline Kennedy becoming a United States Senator when this fellow who was also at the same large table interjected with his thoughts. He voiced his very strong feelings and I responded that the only "qualifications" to be a United States Senator involved age, citizenship, and residency; and, the fact that someone may be related to others in elective office has no relevency. He didn't like my response and refused to look at me for the rest of the time we were in that luncheon session. Oh, well!

Around that same time, I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine who voiced the same concerns as the fellow at the AESA conference. With two different yet similar conversations taking place at nearly the same time, I started to be a bit more astute and realized many people share the same concern. Hmmmmm, says I to myself.

I do not understand why people are so opposed to what they call political dynasties, i.e. members in the same extended family who are acitive in American politics or government. No one seems to have a problem with family dynasties in the medical profession, or the legal profession, or in factory work, or in teaching, or in denistry, or in construction trades, or in skilled trades, etc., etc., etc. Elective office and government positions are jobs in the public service. What's wrong with that? Why are family members who share a common interest and common careers in public service any different than family members who do likewise in the private sector? Why do people treat this topic the way that they do? I can't figure it out. Elective positions are elected; if the person isn't doing the job, that person may be removed by recall or simply not be re-elected. Problem solved. After all, the voting majority does indeed have the final say. Then there is the situation of family members who work for the government. If someone employed in the government sector is not performing satisfactorily, that person is subject to corrective action, including dismissal if warranted. Again, problem solved.

Recently, I read the Washingington Post piece Dynasties in Decline by Op-Ed columnist David S. Broder and it seems quite poignant.

I also read Political Dynasties: An American Tradition from Brookings which I also fond to be very interesting.

Oh, by the way, there's a piece over at Wikipedia entitled List of United States political families that you might wish to explore.

We have in the United States of America a system of checks and balances and we have a voting box that is a regular occurence. Quite frankly, I think political dynasties are A-OK.

I imagine many folks disagree with me. I sure would like to know the logical reasoning of their disagreement.


Hooda Thunkit said...


Of course, you're right on regarding the requirements.

But, when you're from a so-called dynasty family, people seem to expect more.

Right or wrong, people raise expectations/(unwritten)requirements when you have that certain name,

And apparently, when is came to the latest Kennedy, it appears as though she didn't meet the expectations.

(She was kinda hard to listen to, so I have to agree on the lack of an impression that she failed to make.)

Being from a dynasty family apparently cuts both ways. . .

J. Rowsey said...

Roland - I think you make a good case. It shouldn't matter what the candidate's last name happens to be, but will they do a good job for their constituents? Be they Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, Cuomos, whoever, just judge the person on their own merits.

Judy said...

It should be what you do to earn respect not what your last name might be!

Tim Higgins said...


I agree on the qualifications for Senator, am not sure about dynasties in general. I think that the real problem with dynasties is that there is an assumption of competence without proof.

The example that you cite of Caroline Kennedy was not unfortunately about whether she was qualified, but was about whether she was qualified simply because she was a Kennedy.

Does she have the right to run for office? Absolutely. Does she need to show qualifications to the voters of that district to achieve office? I would hope so. Does she deserve to be given the high office of Senator without prior experience in government simply because of her last name? I would hope not.

Families who go into the same profession; medical, legal, etc., still must take the required schooling or training and pass such training. They are not granted an MD by right of birth.

It sometimes seems that we are adopting a "House of Lords" philosophy in US politics these days, and I for one find it disturbing.

Roland Hansen said...

Likewise, Tim, people should not dismiss someone as a candidate solely on the basis that the candidate is related to someone else. All candidates for elective or appointive office still must pass the litmus test and still must go through the political scrutiny prior to being elected or appointed to office.

Another aspect that sometimes gets a "bum" rap is allegations of "conflict of interest" when a husband and wife or parent and adult child or siblings wish to seek office on the same body, such as school board or city council or board of county commissioners, etc. I have had people tell me that these folks should not be elected to the same body politic simply because of their relationship posing a conflict of interest and that they would think and act the same. I always respond to that allegation with citing the example of James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Tim Higgins said...


I wouldn't dismiss them, but based on my recent experiences in Toledo I might set the bar a bit higher than I normally would.

Brian said...

Political dynasties are a natural phenomena that emerges in American politics. Name familiarity is a major component to political success. I have no problem with political dynasties if they are organic. The Kennedy dynasty is organic as is the Clinton dynasty and the Bush dynasty.

However, I see the appointment of Caroline Kennedy (now a dead issue) to to be artificial perpetuation of a political dynasty. If she were to run for office and win it, that is fine. But there isn't anybody who can reasonably argue that Caroline Kennedy was the most qualified Democrat for the job.