Given the sad state of American politics, commentators are frequently espousing all sorts of proposals to rectify the situation. From restricting campaign spending, to eliminating gerrymandering, to imposing term limits to expanding the franchise, today's talking heads have endless suggestions for restoring some sanity to the system.
The trouble with any of these suggestions is that they are difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Those currently benefiting from existing inequities have little incentive to make the necessary changes since such changes would only undermine their power base.
Despite the gloomy picture, there is one simple change that would help shake up the status quo and reverse the ongoing trend towards incumbency and plutocracy. All we need do is pass a law that prohibits family members of a current or former officeholder from running for elected office or serving in any capacity in his or her own administration.
Ever since John Quincy Adams rode his father's coattails and won a contested four-way presidential race in 1824, America has suffered the shortcomings of a system open to the abuses of nepotism. Those raised in successful political families are quickly tainted by the process and, if they assume office, are often committed to keeping things just as they are.
We don't have to look back far to find egregious examples of the negative outcomes of such nepotistic behaviour. George W. Bush was descended from a political strain which included his president-father George H. W. Bush and his senator-grandfather Prescott Bush. Not only did his aristocratic lineage get him into Yale and out of Vietnam, it served as a personal affirmative action program giving him two or three legs up on an eventual stint in the White House.
As Texas politician Jim Hightower once said of Bush, Sr.: "He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple," an observation even more germane to Bush's son. A disastrous eight years of Dubbya's rule left the Middle East in ruins and America on the verge of bankruptcy.
George W. Bush was never qualified to be president, but he had the family connections. A simple anti-nepotism law would have prohibited him from running and the country would have been saved from his destructive reign.
We like to think of both Canada and the U.S. as representative democracies, but these days that seems like a distant goal.
Likewise, the Democratic Party could have saved itself from itself with such a statute in place as Hillary Clinton, the wife of a former president, would have been disqualified from running for office. That would have cleared the way in 2016 for Bernie Sanders, who had a far better chance of knocking off Donald Trump.
It's not as if this type of legislation is unknown in American history. After John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby as attorney general, Congress passed the anti-nepotism law in 1967 which prohibits public officials from appointing their relatives to civilian positions. It's not a big step to expand that prohibition to cover running for elected office.
Such a provision would prevent the likes of the Bush daughters and Chelsea Clinton from running. More importantly, it would halt any further political ambitions by the Trump siblings, including Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka. In fact, with some additional wording, it might even help to rid the current Trump White House of any family members (including in-laws).
We here in Canada could likewise benefit from such a law. If it had earlier been in place, it would have prevented the photo-op-who-would-be-king, Justin Trudeau, from acquiring his pa's old position as prime minister. And more recently, it would have stopped Caroline Mulroney, daughter of the much-reviled former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, from announcing her run for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the provincial riding of York-Simcoe.
We like to think of both Canada and the U.S. as representative democracies, but these days that seems like a distant goal. With special interests ruling the roost, we're lucky to see new blood take office and instead must put up with something more akin to dynastic rule.
Let's at least put an end to the passing of power from one generation of professional politicians to another, and clear the way for the possibility of truly representative government.
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