Kennedy, Cuomo, Biden -- nepotism thriving in American politics

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Caroline Kennedy's apparent interest in Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat is just the latest example of that firmly entrenched tradition of American politics - nepotism.

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Caroline Kennedy's apparent interest in Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat is just the latest example of that firmly entrenched tradition of American politics - nepotism.

Kennedy's reported behind-the-scenes play for the job, however, is not being greeted with the type of giddy hurrahs that might have been expected upon word that JFK's daughter, a poignant symbol of the Camelot era, could finally be stepping into the public spotlight after a lifetime spent studiously avoiding it.

It appears America might be tiring of nepotism.

"The woman has never run for office in her life," Jane Hamsher, the woman behind the respected FireDogLake political blog, wrote recently.

"She simply picks up the phone and lets it be known that she just might be up for having one of the highest offices in the land handed to her because - well, because why? Because her uncle once held the seat? Because she's a Kennedy? Because she took part as a child in the public's romantic dreams of Camelot? I'm not quite sure."

A New York Times story earlier this week about how Ted Kennedy is lobbying for his 51-year-old niece garnered mostly negative comments.

"The economy is tanking and we're fighting in two wars. This is no time for New York to send someone to the Senate who would never be considered for the position if it were not for her last name," one reader wrote.

Gov. David Paterson has a few weeks to ponder his pick of Clinton's replacement until the 2010 Senate race. The former first lady will vacate the seat when she's confirmed as secretary of state in Barack Obama's forthcoming administration.

The stable of candidates under Paterson's purview is a veritable advertisement for political nepotism: Kennedy's cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was in the running at one point, and onetime governor Mario Cuomo's son, Andrew, currently the attorney general of New York, wants the job.

Kennedy would hardly be the first in her extended family to follow in the footsteps of their famous fathers and uncles by entering the political arena. Her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, once held the seat she's apparently coveting.

Numerous Kennedy cousins, in fact, have political careers. Most of them, however, have done it the old-fashioned way - they've run for office rather than being appointed for what's essentially a two-year test drive before facing the electorate.

The Kennedys, however, are far from cornering the nepotism market.

Jesse Jackson Jr. is an Illinois congressman, and has been the leading candidate to fill Obama's empty Senate seat.

That was in question Tuesday, however, upon word that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had been arrested in Chicago on corruption charges stemming from the selection of Obama's successor - something that could have ramifications for whomever the governor was allegedly pushing for.

In Delaware, there's speculation that Beau Biden, son of vice-president-elect Joe Biden, is plotting to make a run for the Senate in 2010.

Biden, Delaware's attorney general, was rumoured to be ready to replace his father after Obama won the election, but took his name out of the running to serve in Iraq.

And yet the appointment of Ted Kaufmann, a long-time Joe Biden aide, reportedly angered local Democrats who viewed it as an attempt to orchestrate Biden's election in 2010.

"Beau has made it clear from the moment he entered public life, that any office he sought, he would earn on his own," Joe Biden said in response to the criticism.

"If he chooses to run for the Senate in the future, he will have to run and win on his own. He wouldn't have it any other way."

In Florida, Senator Mel Martinez's announcement that he won't seek re-election in 2010 has prompted speculation that the president's brother, former state governor Jeb, will make a play for the seat. Jeb and George W. Bush, of course, are the sons of a president themselves.

While nepotism is obviously not a uniquely American phenomenon - Canada has Justin Trudeau, after all, and many other countries routinely see political kids getting into the family business - there's no question that it's thriving in the United States.

"With at least 18 senators, dozens of House members and several administration officials boosted by family legacies, modern-day Washington sometimes resembles the court of Louis XIV without the powdered wigs," the Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote in 2005.

Today in the Senate, there are at least 15 senators with immediate family members who previously head high office, Glenn Greenwald, an author and onetime constitutional lawyer, recently pointed out on Salon.com.

"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," he wrote.

"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."

Organizations: New York Times, Democrats, Washington Post

Geographic location: WASHINGTON, United States, New York Illinois Kennedys Chicago Iraq Florida Canada

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