There is news today that Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) will not be seeking reelection. While not a major news item in and of itself, it does mean that the most famous political dynasty in America without a direct role in the federal government for the first time in many decades. And this is good news, because 21st Century Jeffersonians should always raise eyebrows whenever political candidates attempt to capitalize on family connections and prestige, rather than their own fitness for office.
When the nation was founded, Jefferson and his cohorts saw the possibility of a new kind of society, uninfected by the virus of aristocracy. Thomas Paine, writing in Common Sense, made the obvious yet important point that "virtue and ability are not hereditary." As a state legislator in Virginia, Jefferson pushed legislation banning the practice of primogeniture and attacked other pillars of aristocratic privilege. In order to prevent the establishment of an aristocracy in America, based on wealth rather than noble lineages, Jefferson waged a long struggle against Hamilton and his Federalist allies.
But despite all the efforts of the early Jeffersonians, we can see that the virus of aristocracy has wormed its way into the American political process, and this is most clear in the form of the many family dynasties that hold a disproportionate share of political power in our country.
The Kennedys may be the most famous political dynasty in America, but the Bush family is a close second. From the ranks of this family have emerged two presidents, two senators, a governor, and a Supreme Court justice. Their example is perhaps the most telling argument against political dynasties, for George W. Bush would never have become Governor of Texas, let alone President of the United States, had he not been his father's son. And while the history of his administration still has yet to be fully written, it is more obvious every day that the United States would have been much better off had George W. Bush lived out his life as the part-owner of a baseball team.
Throughout our nation's history, many families have operated political machines that have controlled entire states or large cities, sometimes for decades. The Daley family has treated Chicago pretty much as their own personal fiefdom since the 1950s. After the assassination of Huey Long in 1935, his family continued to effectively control the politics of Louisiana for decades, and his son Russell continued to serve in the Senate until 1987. The Udall family has had a disproportionate share of power in many Western states for nearly a century, and two of its members are currently United States senators, one from New Mexico and one from Colorado. When Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) was elected Governor of Alaska, he had the gall to appoint his own daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to succeed him in the Senate. Beau Biden, the son of the current Vice-President, was elected Attorney General of Delaware on account of his father's popularity, and there has been talk of his succeeding to his father's Senate seat. And there are countless other examples of family political dynasties in America.
This sort of nonsense must stop. If the officeholders of the land are going to be chosen because of who their parents are, rather than on account of their own virtues and abilities, then America is no better than a medieval kingdom. Citizens must be extremely wary whenever they hear of a current politician's child or other relative running for office. If all else seems equal between two candidates, the fact that of them is a member of a powerful political family should be a sufficient enough reason to vote against them.