Opinion: The Race to President Shouldn’t Be a Family Affair

Written by City & State on . Posted in Politics.


By Michael Benjamin

Like many New Yorkers, I thank Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his repeated demurrals concerning a presidential bid in 2016. Cuomo was elected to run our state, not to use Albany as a Triple-A way station on his way to the “show.”

Two hundred and thirty-six years into our nation’s history, a professional political class has arisen where the scions of our most powerful families believe themselves entitled to hold public office. While increasingly commonplace on the local and state level, this trend has taken hold even in regard to the presidency of the United States.

The idea that political bloodlines should determine the presidential nomination process is a growing concern. In 2008 Americans faced the very real possibility of the Bush and Clinton families alternately running the nation for 28 consecutive years. Barack Obama’s emergence and success in clinching the Democratic nomination saved our republic.

Mitt Romney appears motivated by his father, George Romney’s, failed bid for the Republican nomination in 1968. In 1980 Ted Kennedy could not articulate the convictions driving his quest to unseat President Jimmy Carter. The late John F. Kennedy Jr. was hounded by repeated speculation of an eventual political career. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s name is floated weekly as a potential Romney running mate.

Pundits are now goading Hillary Clinton and Governor Cuomo to enter the 2016 fray. Ex-Governor Paterson’s failure to nominate Caroline Kennedy to fill Clinton’s unexpired Senate term spared us from tales of Camelot II.

Is it name recognition, celebrity, laziness, elitism or entitlement that is driving this fever?

Be it elitism or a sense of entitlement, this growing practice runs profoundly counter to the American ideals of rugged individualism, “bootstrapism” and personal merit. Public office should not be treated as a legacy for elites.

The 14 presidents who are graduates of Harvard, Yale and Princeton reflect a measure of elitism that Americans have accepted. George W. Bush was the only president to hold degrees from both Harvard and Yale.

Many students at Harvard, Yale and Princeton are legacy admissions because their parents or grandparents are graduates. The Adams and Bush sons are double legacies because their fathers are Harvard and Yale graduates, respectively.

Notably, 12 elite universities have produced 42 percent of government leaders and 54 percent of corporate leaders, according to research by Thomas Dye. One critic of admissions practices at these elite institutions argues that legacy preferences are widespread and harmful.

I would add that legacy preferences in politics and government are equally widespread and potentially harmful in a representative democracy.

To read the full column at City & State click here.

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