Do We Need Another Kennedy?

After weeks of gossip, Caroline Kennedy seems to be overtly presented herself as a candidate to fill Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. I view the news with a bit of dismay. I don’t really like the idea of another Kennedy in a powerful government position.

This has nothing to do with the Kennedy’s themselves; I’m rather ambivalent about the clan and their record. I consider the disdain of many on the Right toward the family to be just as silly as the adulation which many liberals heap upon John, Robert, and their relatives. Personal conduct of some members of the family aside, they have collectively done their share to promote liberal values in the nation—though they appear to be as willing as any to compromise their ideals when those ideals conflict with their personal interests.

But none of that really has anything to do with my reticence. I’m more bothered by the concept of dynastic succession. I’m troubled by the appearance of a growing governing aristocracy in the nation. The Kennedys are the most obvious example, but hardly the only one. Prescott Bush made Senator, his son George was president, as was his son George W, whose brother was governor and is still considered a potential future presidential candidate. Two generations of Al Gores held the Tennessee Senate seat, the second also climbing to the Vice-Presidency. Bill and Hillary Clinton are another obvious example, albeit with an unusual horizontal, rather than vertical, familial connection.

These few examples (there may be other national examples of which I’m not aware, and there are plenty of local-level examples, such as Chicago and the Daly’s) hardly constitute a wave. And it isn’t as if there isn’t historic precedence ( John Adams and John Quincy Adams; William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison); there have been political families in the past.

Nevertheless, I would prefer we avoid any possible dynasties. One of the concepts which we have come to hold dear in this nation is the concept of widespread opportunity and social mobility. One’s success and mobility isn’t supposed to be based on one’s family ties, but on one’s merit. as celebrity families become entrenched in politics, as whom you know and to whom you are related become more important factors in the political field, it weakens the basis of social mobility and creates rich breeding grounds for corruption.

Having well-connected relations should not disqualify Caroline (or Hilary, or Jeb, or anyone else) from entering the political arena. If a given tree truly provides outstanding fruit, so be it. But I think we should be cautious and carefully inspect the fruit to ensure that we are not selecting them more for their heritage than for their own qualities. Granting them entrance via appointment rather than the normal election process seems alarmingly dynastic to me.

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8 Responses to “Do We Need Another Kennedy?”

  1. CK Rock Says:

    I agree that creating powerful political families isn’t a good idea, but I guess it could be worse.

    Apparently in Japan, dynastic succession is much more prevelant. To the point that in a recent TV drama, when a politician father died in office, it seemed natural for the son to campaign to take his place, even though the only son remaining in the family had no interest in politics.

  2. Frank Staheli Says:

    CK Rock,

    This is happening more frequently now in the United States, and is not unknown from happening in Utah (Karen Mayne).


    Everyone talked during the election campaign about a possible Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynasty, which would have been bad enough. I hadn’t thought so much about a Kennedy dynasty, but you make an excellent point here. This is exactly what American democracy was intended not to be.

    The main dynasty that we need to flesh out and kick out, however, (and it will be a much harder task) is the Establishment dynasty, peopled by such behind-the-scenes men as David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger.

  3. Lula O Says:

    Your argument is a good one, but I like Caroline Kennedy. She’d always seemed to have inherited the quieter side of what that family represents, weath, privilege, public attention, affairs, and drug addiction. Remaining hidden, of sorts, using her name for good behind the scenes. Until now. Why I wonder. Perhaps the public service gene is too strong to deny…

    She’s just as qualified as Hillary was, and has actually lived in the state for longer than a year.

    And she’s a woman.
    And N. Diamond likes her…
    Sweet Caroline.

  4. Lisa Says:

    I wonder if it’s really a precursor to any sort of dynasty, if – like you aluded to – it’s more a matter of similar passions arising within a family. Just like if your father is a dentist, the possibility that the profession will someday be yours is hightened.

    I don’t know enough about Caroline to have an opinion one way or the other (nevermind I live 3000 miles across the country); it does strike me as odd and a little out of left field. I mean, how many people would be able to just one day say “eh, I think I’ll run for Senate” and have half a shot?


    Her name absolutely gives her more credence and power. It was either on Chris Matthews or Meet the Press this morning where someone else made a good point:

    Caroline is buddy-buddy with Barack Obama. Wouldn’t you want a Senator who could call up the President and get stuff done?

    In the end, and much unlike Japan as noted above, those in political families such as the Kennedy’s ultimately have the final say if they want to run or not. They may be expected, but again no more expected than the son to take over the family business, you know?

  5. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Lula, my alarm isn’t a personal attack on Caroline. I have nothing against her–I don’t know enough about her to dislike her. I just don’t like the idea of a recreation of the Roman Senate, in which the Optimates–the “best” families–automatically have a seat.

    Lisa, you bring up an interesting point about the inherited trades. However, when it comes to the trade of governance, I think we need to be very careful about preventing the evolution of an aristocracy.

  6. lamonte Says:

    I can’t think of one Kennedy that wasn’t elected by the people of the particular state in which they resided. I am concerned that people would see a negative about a family that has given so much to the nation. They all could have spent their time sailing off the coast of Hyannis Port but instead put their lives on the line, literally, on behalf of others. Despite the venom spread by the conservative right about the Kennedy’s in general and Teddy Kennedy in particular, I have heard lifelong Republicans proclaim the kindness and goodness of Ted Kennedy who genuinley cares about his colleagues in the Congress, regardless of their political stripes. Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, tells the story of when he gave up his seat in Congress to spend more time with his young son who was diagnosed with diabetes. He said the ONLY member of Congress that contacted him after he had been gone for a while was Ted Kennedy who called to express concern about Joe and his son. None of his fellow Republicans seemed to care.

    If you just listen to Caroline Kennedy speak you see that she has inherited the best qualities of her father and her mother. Rather than be concerned about dynaties we should all rejoice that another Kennedy has decided to serve the country. If Governor Patterson decides to appoint her, she will have to run for election in 2010 and then again in 2012. The next election cycle is 2010 and Hillary Clinton’s term is up in 2012. That schedule of elections and the commitment to participate is hardly a free ride. The people of New York should be honored to have her serve in the Senate representing their state. The people from other states shouldn’t be so concerned.

  7. Joseph Owen Says:

    There’s lots true progressives should be worried about with the Kennedies:

    I too find myself annoyed at the right for disliking the Kennedies for all the wrong reasons (and their violent hatred is just not acceptable in a democratic society), but also with liberals who blindly adore them.

    But the worst of the Kennedies was old grandpa Joe, and maybe being a generation removed from their fascist grandfather some of these younger Kennedies are maybe more sincere.

    I also am very opposed to dynasties. It was because dynasties always go bad eventually that Thomas Paine argued against any form of monarchy. And since this blog has “Mormon” in the title, let’s look at the Book of Mormon. While every once in awhile a king or a judge has a good son, it rarely lasts more than a generation. Dynasties always end badly in the Book of Mormon.

    My 2 cents.

    Hopefully Caroline is a good apple amidst a bunch of bad ones. She seems so far to be.

    In terms of a family that has actually “promoted liberal values” in this country, I think the Udalls have done a much better job. Not that I think anyone should be elected just for being a Udall, but they have produced some of the best politicians I know of!

  8. Saskia Says:

    IMO, this dynasty thing has always been going on, only now it’s more public. It’s always been about whom you know, with a few (great) exceptions. In this case, it’s about family connections, but that only puts a different face on it, it doesn’t mean it’s something new. College these days is less about learning and more about networking: you don’t want to learn from a professor, you want to meet him or her, work with them, get a reference that will open other doors.

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