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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Like father, unlike son

If you know anything about how politics work in Chicago, the recent drama surrounding Cook County Board President John Stroger won't surprise you. Stroger, who has been president since 1994, won the Democratic primary in March despite having suffered a massive stroke a week before the election. After spending the last four months on a feeding tube, Stroger officially resigned Tuesday, both as a board member and the Democratic nominee for board president in November. The Tribune has a good overview.

Cook County Board president is the third most powerful office in Illinois, and the Cook County budget was more than $3 billion in 2005.

Rep. Dan Lipinkski
Rep. Bill Lipinkski
The Lipinskis. Scariest part: these are apparently the best pictures they could find.
Chicago-style, Stroger's likely replacement on the ballot is his son, Alderman Todd Stroger. And one of the leading candidates to serve the remainder of John's term as president is board member John Daley, brother of Mayor Richard M. Daley and son of former mayor Richard J. Daley. Really.

My own member of congress, Rep. Dan Lipinski, is in office because of a neat little bait-and-switch by his father Bill, who held the same congressional seat for more than 20 years. After winning the Democratic primary in 2004, BIll promptly announced his retirement and had his son Dan put on the ballot in his place. (No, I don't know how you pull that off either.)

Republicans don't really even bother to run in the Illinois 3rd District, so winning the primary is tantamount to winning the office. Which Dan did. Incumbent reelection rates run about 98 percent in the House, so Lipinksi the Lesser is probably in until he dies, retires or is indicted.

We generally accept low levels of nepotism as a integral part of society. It's just how things work — especially in Chicago. Who hasn't gotten a son, brother or niece a job at some point? Who doesn't want to hand down the family business to their eldest?

That just doesn't fly for elected office, though. One of the (many) reasons that landed aristocracy doesn't work real well as a system of government is that breeding is not a good predictor of ability or character. Anyone who believes in the genetic trickle-down effect needs to take a long look at JFK Jr., George W. Bush and poor, poor Tucker Quayle.

Democracy is not only about letting people choose their own government, but ideally also letting the most qualified people rise to lead that government. We're obviously not there yet, but can we at least sample freely from the gene pool?

We should be naturally suspicious of the daughters, nephews, sisters and grandsons of those who have already led. George W. should have been judged by a higher standard because his father was president, not a lower one. He should have had to prove beyond all doubt that he was running on his own merits, not coasting on his father's name. (And let's not forget Al Gore Jr. held the same Senate seat his father had for 18 years.)

But hey, once we've gone this far, why stop with two Bushes? W.'s father has openly speculated about the presidential candidacy of his other son, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.

Listen. Politics aside. I don't care how much you love George W.'s presidency and think he's doing a bang-up job. The whole reason we started this democracy thing in the first place was to avoid having the same asshole family in charge for decades at a time.

And former presidential spouses aren't much better.

Democracy is hard work, I know. But if you don't have time to learn where a candidate stands on the issues and to vote according to your interests, here's a rule of thumb you can use: If you see a familiar name on the ballot, vote for the other guy.


Blogger Chance-86 said...

As much as I agree with the basic idea of deposing nepotism, your article lacks one very important perspective. This country is a representative republic. These guys are in office not because their fathers put them there, but because the voters allowed it. These are the very same reasons that I agree fundamentally with things like term-limits, but ultimately would vote against them. As long as we remain a representative republic, then I have to follow my convictions and say that it is the right of each voter to vote on the candidate of choice. If they choose the incumbant 99.99999% of the time, then...well...that is their choise and that is what has made this country great. If I happen to think the guy is a shmuck, then I have the right to vote (or better yet, RUN) against him at any point.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, you insinuated that Dub-ya ran on the merits of his father? *still looking for those*

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also agree with your points about nepotism and the danger of it. In my congressional district there has been a lot of talk about our congressman being replaced by his son. However, again, this is an elected official and although, clearly we could blame nepotism on W, it is also important to think about one of my favorites, the Adams'. Though grandfather and grandson, John and John Quincy were both outstanding Presidents and John Quincy had a lot of impact during the Amistad situation. His abolitionist tendencies sparked a lot of positive rhetoric in his time. So, nepotism is a great thing for those who are worthy of its gift.

Blogger Buck B. said...

In a fully-functioning democracy, I would agree with you Chance. But the way the electoral system works in America right now, politicians of both parties are constantly gaming the system. As I mentioned above, incumbent reelection rates in the House of Representatives are 98 percent. Ninety-eight percent! Obviously, something's not right here.

The solution to this problem probably isn't more laws — we've got enough of those. But we (you, me, the press, our educational system) have to do a better job of getting people to actually evaluate candidates rather than voting like automatons. Until then, politicians of all stripes will keep riding the tide of voter inertia.

The Lipinkis are a perfect example of how you can manipulate the system, and the voters, without necessarily breaking the rules. Once Dan Lipinski was added to the ballot as the Democratic candidate, there was literally no chance he would not be elected. You can blame 3rd District voters for his winning the 2006 primary (though only with 54 percent of the vote), but that goes back to the whole incumbent re-election percentages.

I have a generally dim view of the electorate, especially after the last few years. People have the right to vote for whoever they like, but we shouldn't remain quiet when they make bad choices.

Blogger Buck B. said...

I've always said that enlightened dictatorship is the best form of government...if you can find the right dictators. I think I'd much rather live under the absolute rule of Thomas Jefferson, or the Adamses, than under some of our current elected officials.

The problem, of course, is that even if you have a run of good rulers (e.g. the Five Good Emperors), you're eventually going to get an asshole (e.g. Commodus). This is true even if you select the heir yourself, as they did in the Roman Empire, but it's doubly true if you just go with your kids. We got lucky with two President Adams', but I'll bet the third would have really sucked.

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

As for democracy being about letting the most qualified prople rise to positions of leadership, I think there is little historical evidence to this effect. The main merit of democracy is the presence of institutional mechanisms for the removal and replacement of less then competent governments without having to resort to major bloodshed. As a side, fringe benefit, democracy also provides an outlet to the deeply ingrained human desire to have a human sacrifice (symbolically, at least) when things appear to go wrong. And, again, this desire is satisfied, in democracy, without bloodshed. These are the obvious benefits. As for competence, well, it is as much a lottery as in other systems.

Blogger Chance-86 said...

Not sure that we would want a fully-functioning democracy. The realization that we would have to vote on every single governmental policy and/or change would be impossible. The Representative Republic that we have is probably the least of two evils. It's greatest failure is the fact that people only get uptight or excited about candidates when things are going wrong. If everything in life is A-okay, then we are a lazy bunch of gluttonous Americans who just don't care. The only thing that makes us care is when things get rough, or the rules start to affect us in ways that we don't like. It's a sad state, but I'm not sure that the problem is the system. "Absolute power corrupts, absolutely." Until the American people, as a whole (or at least as a mojority), care about more than our taxes and the unemployment rate, then we are destined to sit in the complacency of 98% incumbency. This entire attitude is what will be the downfall of our country someday. The 'democracy' as we know it will come crashing down around us if we don't get more involved in its processes instead of less involved, as we have been for the past several decades. As much as I am an adoring fan of the Representative Republic, its failure is the people who just 'elect' someone and just walk away thinking that they've done their patriotic duty...then they don't look at another issue for 4 more years. And (as long as I'm on my rant), at the end of 4 years, no one searches out the issues. We either buy the mud-slinging bullshit of the media (I love the old quote, "there are 3 degrees of lies: Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics"), or we vote on someone based solely upon thier stand on the current'issue of the week.

BTW: keep up the blog. I'm lovin this shit.

Blogger Buck B. said...

Chance: True dat. I agree completely.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

If father/son nepotism irks you, how do you feel about the current situation in Poland? The prime minister is quitting because of an internal rift, and the president is appointing his own twin brother to become the new prime minister! So Polish citizens not only have to remember just one name—they have to remember just one face, too.

Blogger Buck B. said...

Twins who used to be child actors, no less. The number of Polish jokes this enables simply boggles the mind.

Of course, it would be a lot funnier if the twins weren't merrily consolidating power and tilting Poland hard towards isolationism. After all, according to your power rankings they're one of the United States' key allies.

Anonymous AJ said...

I'm only commenting to say that the "third most powerful office in Illinois" politics may be overstating the case slightly, but being that you're from Chicago, I understand the thinking.

Powerful sure, but I'd argue that there are a few representatives and senators who are close enough to Mike Madigan the governor that they overtake Stroger. (I know you said office, but the job is only as influential as the person who fills it.)

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, is one. And Senate Prez. Emil Jones, even if he's a Madigan stooge.

And you forget Denny Hastert. Don't think for a second that just because he is a federal official, he doesn't run things in the state GOP. Or Judy Topinka for that matter. She's friends with everyone from Ken Mehlman to Bob Kjellander to Jim Edgar. (The first two mean she has Rove pulling her along).

I'd also put Richard the Second above Stroger. And I can think of a few lawyers both in Chicago and the St. Louis area who have more money than that $3 billion budget and don't mind throwing it around.

Consider that Randall Bono sunk nearly $1B of his own cash into the 2004 downstate supreme court race.

Just some thoughts.

Blogger Buck B. said...

In terms of political power, you might be right, Adam. But when it comes to actual control over resources and people's lives, it's hard to beat an office that oversees the largest unified criminal and civil justice system in the country and operates the nation's largest jail. Not to mention the County's 26,000 jobs, in addition to that $3 billion budget.

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