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Editorial: Father-son power in the federal government

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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Many in this country celebrated their fathers Sunday for the guidance and opportunities they provided during the formative years and beyond. None should do that more so than our federal representatives, apparently.

According to a study for the New York Times by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, men are 8,500 times more likely to hold an office in Washington if their father was a senator — talk about the influence of daddy. Family names seem to hold analogous power with the dollar bill in Washington.

To label popular surnames, such as Bush, Clinton, or Kennedy, as dynasties may not do justice for the semantic meaning of the word. The VIP list extends to the Paul, Gore, and Romney families. Our federal government is more nepotistic than the CEOs that fund said government under veils, in which a man is 1,895 times more likely to become a big-name corporate head if his father was also one.

Harvard University’s Brian Feinstein conducted a composite analysis of Congress in 2010, finding that 12 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives from 1994 to 2006 belonged to a recognized political dynasty.

These dynasties are not some new-fangled trend. Since the conception of this country, surnames have carried considerable weight in political development. The Adamses, Roosevelts, and Tafts are just a few families that have historically operated our government from the steering wheel to the axles that support the wheels in this metaphoric big rig.

Privilege via lineage has (im)measurable power in the United States. The exclusivity of familial heritage in the federal government does not stop at the top; it begins and thrives in state and local governments.

The Romney family seems to be establishing a hereditary link for governors (speculation will likely continue for a while, considering Mitt has five sons). At a more urban level, the Durhal family has become a mainstay in Detroit politics since the late 1980s, while the Sullivans of Cambridge have held office in and around the Massachusetts area for more than 80 years.

With a degree of political exclusivity in federal, state, and local governments, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that politics in this country tends to operate more like an aristocracy than democracy. Financial backing, through fundraising as well as PACs and Super-PACs, are a vital factor to winning elections in the current political atmosphere, but your father’s name quickly opens the doors that establish the aforementioned financial backing.

This nepotism-ridden politics functions slightly in a feudalistic sense, passing down property (or political office) from generation to generation based on family history more than merit.

Often times, the names associated with such political dynasties can garner a well-liked reputation, like the Kennedys. However, this should not detract from that said family is distinctly one of the most politically powerful households in this country and perennially so.

When power becomes so deep-seated, it conversely becomes just as more difficult to relinquish that influence.

There has been talk of the decline of political dynasties in this country. However, that may be unfortunately too optimistic, given that the Kennedy dynasty in federal office was reinstated in 2012 after a mere two-year hiatus.

Jeb Bush officially announced his candidacy for presidential office June 15, and it seems these statistics may sway favor for the next installment of the Bush dynasty. In honor of Father’s Day, hopefully, there was at least some filial affection on Jeb’s part and in other parts of the federal government on Sunday.


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