2014 elections are all in the family
Pundits have been talking lately about how the 2014 elections seem to be one of the most boring elections in recent history. Compared to the 25 percent of voters that closely followed the last two elections, only 15 percent are closely following these elections, according to a Pew Poll. Most pundits have blamed the general lack of interest in Congressional gridlock and the fact that, in this election, there seems to be nothing important at stake.
However, there might be another factor at play here. In the 2014 elections, races seem to be dominated by political families. A large number of Senate candidates are related to mayors, governors, and other politicians. The Guardian lists just a few of many such candidates: Alaska incumbent Senator Mark Begich is the son of Alaska Congressman Nick Begich. Arkansas incumbent Senator Mark Pryor is the son of former Senator David Pryor. In Louisiana, incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu is the daughter of former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu, and sister of current New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. The Guardian goes on to talk about at least four other states in which this is happening.
Most of the craziness and excitement that resulted from the elections in 2008, 2010, and 2012 were due to the sheer number of new grassroots candidates running. Opposed to candidates from political families, which are branded and polished, these grassroots candidates were willing to overstep the line at times and were far more raw and unedited. Remember Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, or Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell? There was a sense that these candidates, whether for better or worse, were true political outsiders.
The lack of these outsiders makes not only for a stagnant election, but also stagnant politics and government in general. A full third of the United States Senate are related to at least one other public official, according to CNN. This is apparently what “normal” American elections are like: the same names, with the same political positions, cycling in and out. With the same old families sitting at the same golf games and vacationing in the summer at Martha’s Vineyard, it all comes out looking more like a competitive aristocracy than a true democracy.
This is nothing new to United States politics, but in general it should be getting better, not worse. The United States has always romanticized its political families to some degree. People want idols they can look up to and adore, such as the Kennedys living in Camelot. However, people should be aware that candidates from political families have had unfair benefits from their connections, especially those from powerful political dynasties.
These candidates are guaranteed surefire endorsement, can draw from an established pool of professional staff, and have a significantly easier time with funding. Many ads for candidates even leverage their family connection. In an ad for Michelle Nunn, a Georgia Senate candidate whose father used to be a senator, her father appears in the ad and endorses her. The media should be aware of this trend and call it out, instead of acting as if it were something negligible, or even promoting the family connection.
If America was a true meritocracy, the connections between family members in politics wouldn’t matter in the slightest. People should be aware of the substantial and unfair benefits a candidate related to a politician receives when they run for office.
Voters should consider this not only for the current elections, but also for any future elections. Already, we have Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton priming to run for president in 2016, potentially placing another Clinton or Bush in the White House.