Kennedys. Clintons. Bushes. Increasingly, we have precisely the sort of dynastic political families against which Jefferson warned.
We are told, for example, that many Massachusetts politicians are waiting to see if a kennedy will claim the new vacancy:
With Massachusetts having paid its final respects to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the politics of succession begins in earnest this week - candidates will emerge, a race will take shape, and the Kennedy clan will have to reveal whether it wants to keep the seat in the family.
All eyes now are on Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former US representative, with family members and political allies expecting him to make a decision very shortly on whether to enter the Democratic primary. ...
Payne said Kennedy’s decision to run would have a huge impact. “His candidacy in a special election would force all other candidates - real or imagined - to think twice about whether they want to take on a Kennedy so close to Senator Kennedy’s death,’’ he said.
Joe Kennedy’s decision is likely to determine the plans of the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, US Representative Edward J. Markey, who is telling associates he is seriously considering running, and US Representative Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat who is also thinking of joining the primary race. Both are Kennedy loyalists and would not run against a member of the family, according to people familiar with their thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal political calculations.
One is reminded of the corrupt family fiefdoms of British politics of the 19th Century, where seats were handed down from father to son.
As Glenn Greenwald observed last year:
The Senate alone -- to say nothing of the House -- is 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. ...
... this fixation on parent-child, sibling and spousal succession for elected office is particularly problematic. It's certainly true that one can find, in individual cases, instances of self-sufficiency and merit even among those benefiting from nepotism and family names. But the fact that it is now so commonplace -- almost presumptively expected -- for political power to be passed along to close family members is quite anti-democratic. The number of families possessing some sort of aristocratic-like claim to elected office is clearly increasing. By definition, that diminishes the role of merit and the need for democratic persuasion in how elected leaders are chosen. And this dynamic, in turn, fuels how insular, incestuous, unaccountable and bloated with entitlement the Beltway culture is.
... One of the most encouraging aspects of Barack Obama's success -- and, for that matter, the ascension of someone like Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton -- is the pure self-sufficiency and lack of family connection behind it. But even pointing that out demonstrates how meritocratic self-sufficiency has almost become the exception rather than the rule. That we now treat Presidents like Kings and expect them to exercise similar powers is consistent with the broader trend whereby we are ruled by a Versailles on the Potomac, with all the bloated, decadent insularity that implies.
Setting aside the question of whether Barack Obama's success owes a worrying amount to the other scandal of American political life--the great urban political machines, which at least in Chicago still have too much power--the point is exceptionally well taken.