Posted on 12-02-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

With Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island announcing his retirement the next Congress will not have a member of the Kennedy clan.  See link.  Patrick Kennedy in many ways showcased the advantages of his famous family name and the inner demons that have plagued the clan.  With no real accomplishments other than the luck of birth, he was elected to Congress in 1994 in the face of the Republican wave over a more experienced opponent.  In Congress he has been a reliable progressive Democratic vote, but his personal demons drew him more attention outside Capitol Hill.  Like both his parents he has struggled with substance abuse and today spoke of his desire help people with similar problems in a more hands on fashion.

About 15 years ago there were many promising Kennedys of the third generation holding or expected to seek elective office, with some prospective senators or governors in the mix.  None of that came to pass as scandals (Joe Kennedy Jr.), ineptitude (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend) or untimely deaths (JFK, Jr.) limited the rise of the generation.

Kennedys will probably run again, but the passage of time and public revelations have dimmed the lure of Camelot.  The Kennedy name with its implicit reliance on privilege can also be a hindrance (Caroline Kennedy).

But for all all the carping about the Kennedys and privileged politics, dynastic politics is still alive and going string today.  While the House of Bush is tarnished at present by the failure of W’s presidency, it is still likely to produce some more political candidates.  A Daley still governs Chicago.  Sons of sitting and former Congressmen and Governors litter the lists of candidates for elected office.

The reasons are not hard to find.  As the cost of running for office keeps rising, a famous last name gets instant name-recognition, a functioning Rolodex of and access to moneyed contacts and often a political infrastructure to aid the run.   Running as an outsider is incredibly hard.

The cost of running for office is also the reason why both political parties look for candidates who can self-finance (aka are filthy rich).  As a result about 44% of Congressmen (237 per a report last year) are self-reported millionaires.  See link.  With limits on campaign contribution going the way of the dodo, it is an amount likely to increase (an interesting statistic will be to examine how many of them became millionaires after getting to Washington).

Even as the Kennedys fade away the culture of dynasty and money will be around for some time to come.

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