No Political Dynasties

David L. Hunter’s column “What’s in a name? A future president?” touched a raw nerve. It is one that first hit home when I was much younger and Jerry Brown, the son Edmund “Pat” Brown was elected governor of California largely on his ancestry. As Hunter points out, didn’t we fight a revolution to get away from the dynastic monarchies that characterized Europe? And Jerry Brown wasn’t satisfied with his first round as governor from 1975 to 1983. He had to run again in 2011 because, apparently, he didn’t do enough damage the first time.   Brown is the perfect example of a career politician who does not seem to have ever held any jobs other than as an elected official, except for a brief stint with a Los Angeles law firm in 1969.

American politics does have a history of sorts with dynasties. The Adams father and son presidents were the first, but it should be noted that John Quincy Adams was placed in office by vote of the House of Representatives when no candidate received a sufficient number of electoral votes in the general election. Then, there were the Kennedys who had three brothers in national politics. President John Kennedy was assassinated in office as was his brother Robert while running for President. Edward became the entrenched Senator from Massachusetts, and served there essentially his entire adult life.

Hunter also mentions the Cuomos in New York, the Bush family dating back to U.S. Senator Prescott Bush and of course, the Clintons. Not being content with having the second father and son presidents, the Bush family now wants to have the first brother presidents. The Clintons are seeking the first husband and wife presidents, and perhaps the first daughter president at some future date.

Most of this appears to be more a matter of personal vanity than the good of the nation. Further, the public seems to be too lazy to vote on more than name recognition at present, making it more likely that they will elect poorly qualified people and thereby create new political dynasties; elected dynasties, for now, but how long will it take before an entrenched family, or their designated representative, has only token opposition and is always elected. This is the antithesis of a free society. It is voluntary acquiescence to an oligarchy.

It was this potential that prompted an idea some years ago; an idea that deserves some consideration, at least, as a means of preventing dynastic oriented behavior. The idea occurred to me when I first encountered the income tax “attribution rules” for stock ownership. These rules were designed to prevent people from transferring stock to family members in order to hide their control of corporate businesses and thereby circumvent conflict of interest rules. The idea is a simple one. If someone runs for and is elected to office it automatically disqualifies their immediate family members from running for a similar office. It would be the anti-nepotism rule, passed after John Kennedy appointed his brother Robert to US Attorney General, on steroids. Ideally it would disqualify parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, husbands and wives (including divorced spouses) siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. Not only that, but in its ideal form, at least from my perspective, if someone is elected to the House of Representatives then they and their relatives would be disqualified from the US Senate and the Presidency as well.

Even better, to prevent career politicians, would be to term limit people in the House and Senate, as well as forbidding them from crossing over to the other legislative body or running for the presidency.

The criticism that this proposal has encountered has largely centered on the belief that it is “anti-democratic” and that people should have the right to vote for whomever they want. The trouble is that the people are not voting for whomever they want, but rather for the candidate whom they recognize out of a field that some political commentators believe is hand picked to achieve the results that political powerbrokers desire. In any event, candidates are self-selected. They are not the result of some means of determining whom the public wants to see as candidates, therefore the public never has a chance to vote for “whomever they want.” After all, with media exposure being what it is today, perhaps Kim Kardashian’s butt might be the most desired candidate in some circles.

In the modern political arena it is, in general, impossible for anyone to run for significantly high office without having significant connections and financial backing, not to mention support from the party hierarchy.[1] Some candidates are pronounced non-viable at the outset, and relegated to second or even third class status by the media and then gain little or no attention. Are there going to be presidential debates? Then why not include Libertarians, Greens, Independents, Socialist Workers and other party candidates and allow the entire field to have equal exposure and publicity. Then, publicity will be more equally spread and the public will likely have better choices. Instead of being essentially forced to choose between two people whether you like it or not people voters would be presented with more choices.

There are other possible suggestions that might positively impact the electoral process and eliminate dynastic ambitions.   Whether or not they are reasonable and proper will be subject to debate. But this is a debate that needs to be had, along with debates on restricting government power and promoting popular sovereignty. What works best will likely be a matter of trial and error. Time will tell.

[1] It should be noted that some candidates are able to buck party support, as was the case with Ted Cruz in Texas, who was elected to the US Senate without party support which went to his opponent David Dewhurst.

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