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.