Here’s something you may not realize about politics in the United States: We’re seeing fewer and fewer dynastic politicians.
That may seem unlikely during a period when George W. Bush was the most recent president, when Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Andrew Cuomo are all regularly mentioned as presidential candidates, and where even the next generation of the Bush family is getting started in electoral politics. But nevertheless, it’s true, and the elections last week nudged the process forward a bit.
In particular, the 2012 results continued the recent trend away from dynastic senators. Of the 12 new senators elected, as far as I can tell, none of them have parents or other older family members who had been in elective office. The closest any of them get is Deb Fischer, whose father had a bureaucratic position in Nebraska state government as director of roads, and Heidi Heitkamp, whose younger brother became a state senator some time after her political career took off. I wouldn’t count either of them. That means there’s a decrease of two dynastic senators, with Jon Kyl and Olympia Snowe retiring.
I believe this will leave the Senate with only 11 dynastic senators, which is certainly lower than it’s been recently (I counted 16 in the 111th Senate elected in 2008) and, for all I know, may be a record low, at least as a percentage of all senators. I count the following: two Udalls, Manchin, Rockefeller, Casey, Pryor, Paul, Boozman, Landrieu, Begich, and Murkowski. Now, I should include an important caveat: I’m basically working from easily accessed sources. They could be missing information; they certainly could be missing a grandfather who was a small-town mayor, or an aunt who was on the city council. It should cover any immediate relatives who were in Congress or other high office, however. On the other hand, even if the number is really a bit higher, the same would apply to counts of older Congresses, where in many cases we have even less information. So while the numbers could be slightly different, and certainly there are close cases which could be counted differently, the overall trend it pretty clear.
All in all, I think this is excellent news. Granted, there have been some first-rate dynastic politicians in American history. But dynastic dominance doesn’t seem like a sign of a healthy democracy to me. I’m happy to see it declining.