Nepotism not necessarily good for future of politics
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 22:09
Politicians running for office need name recognition and connections. In a typical race, these things have to be built up through campaigning. But when a candidate is a member of a family already recognized in politics, it gives them an unfair advantage and puts the democratic process at risk.
Families with multiple generations in politics are fairly common. Six of our 44 presidents have been directly related (John Adams and John Quincy Adams, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and William Henry Harrison and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, if you were curious). It is generally acceptable for multiple members of the same family to run for office the way it is typical for a person to take over their family’s business. There is nothing wrong with choosing to follow in your parent’s footsteps. But in the case of politics, this puts the younger generation at an advantage over their running mates. Second-generation politicians have experience, connections and instant name recognition. They have been afforded an inside look at the workings of politics through their family’s involvement and have had a chance to establish connections before running for office. They have gotten free publicity, and the family name is already familiar among voters. If they are running on a platform similar to that of their relative’s, their image is already well-established in the eyes of the public.
It is hard to quantify the benefits a second generation politician receives, because experiences and relationships vary case by case and, for the most, part these things play out under the table. But there is no doubt they do have an effect.
Ron Paul, three-time presidential candidate and 12-term Republican congressman from Texas, is a nationally recognized figure. When his son, Rand, ran for Senate in Kentucky in 2010, he beat Attorney General Jack Conway by 11 percentage points, despite the fact that he had never held public office. Paul planned a grassroots fundraising event on Aug. 20th that raised $433,509 in 24 hours, an amount that he claimed was a state record for political fundraising in one day. He went on to win the election against a man who had worked in Kentucky for years because his name was immediately recognized and his electorate already knew what he stood for.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also comes from a politically-active family. His father, George, served as governor of Michigan for six years, ran for president twice and served as secretary of housing and urban development. His mother, Lenore, ran for Senate in Michigan. Romney worked on his parents’ campaigns, and his father served as his unofficial campaign advisor in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate race, in which he lost to Democrat Ted Kennedy, a member of the most famous political family in America. The Kennedys have held numerous federal offices over several generations and are a household name. Beginning with John F. Kennedy’s election to Congress in 1947, there was always at least one Kennedy serving in a federal office in Washington until Patrick Kennedy left Congress in 2011. That is 64 years in which one family had been a powerful and constant influence on American politics.
While most families do not have that kind of longevity, just about any family franchise in Congress can create issues. The advantages second-generation politicians have can lead to a lopsided representation of one group’s views and possibly create a conflict of interests. Would a politician be able to challenge a relative on a matter of policy or make decisions in conflict with their family’s legacy if they saw fit? At the moment, it is common for politicians to say that they put family before anything else. This is a good sentiment, but the context changes when a person has responsibilities that extend far beyond their family.
It is difficult for anyone to distance themselves from their parents, especially those who trade on reputation. Where you come from and who your parents are have become relevant campaign issues, and even if a politician does not want those associations, there is little chance of keeping them out of the dialogue. But if the reputation they inherited was good, what is to stop them from banking on it? While I do not believe that people should be prevented under any circumstance from running for office because of their background, politicians will continue to use it to their advantage. Politics is not the most ethical business. Any leg up is almost always accepted gladly. It is up to the voter to take these things into account when they cast their ballots.