Monday, December 10, 2007

The Footsteps of the Father

There was an interesting, if short, article in yesterday's issue of Parade Magazine (the one that comes with the Sunday paper). Called "The Battle Over Political Dynasties," it began with the observation that politicians, more so than people in other professions, are likely to follow a parent into the "family business." I think this is an interesting observation.

In general, Americans don't seem to follow in their fathers' footsteps any more. There are probably a lot of reasons for this: the mobility of modern American society, and the level of training required for many highly-technical modern trades, and simple rebellion are a few possibilities. And then there are the wishes of the parent and the child: my father was an advertising illustrator (and a very good one) - an art school graduate, he built his photography business on a reputation for technical excellence and a willingness to take on the very difficult shoots many other photographers wouldn't touch (this was, of course, long before the days when digital imaging and PhotoShop made it easy to do complex photographic effects for which he was justly famous). Dad never wanted any of us to go into his business - he thought it was too much headache and labor for too little return. And so it turned out...two of us went into military careers, my youngest brother is an EMT, and my sister is a Loss Prevention Specialist for a big insurance company. My older son initially went to school and graduated as a civil engineer, not wanting to follow me into a military career. But he found that the civilian world didn't offer him the level of challenge and responsibility he sought, and ended up in the military anyhow - where he got all the responsibility he ever wanted. My other son went to college and majored in Archaeology and Anthropology; he now works at a museum in Los Angeles. Looking beyond the family, I don't know many people who have gone into a family business.

Politics is (are?) different. Unlike many countries where political leadership is handed down from father to child, or within a family - think any monarchy, or Syria (Hafez Asad handed off rule to his son Bashar), or Egypt (where Hosni Mubarak is grooming his son to rule), the United States depends on democratic elections to select new rulers. This, of course, doesn't prevent political dynasties from coming up, although they tend not to be long-lasting ruling dynasties. Our second President, John Adams, was the father of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams; and George H. W. Bush begat George W. Bush (of whom the less said, the better). We now stand before the real possibility that Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton, will be the next President. The Kennedy Family is a powerhouse in American politics. And so on.

The point of the Parade article was the question of whether we need a constitutional amendment such as the one proposed by Republican activist Grover Norquist to ban "political dynasties." My strongly-held opinion is "no." As long as we have a political system which relies on free and fair elections, there's no need to specifically forbid someone from following in the family business, even if that business is politics. If the voters don't like your policies, they won't vote for you no matter who your family is. There's no need to add yet another law to the tens of thousands we now have that aren't enforced, anyhow.

What do you think?

I'd write more, but I have a job I need to get to...and my son isn't waiting in the wings to take it over for me.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



John said...

I agree. One of the reasons that I'm opposed to term limits is that I believe that we already have them...we call them elections.

Amanda said...

'Following in my father's footsteps' is a phrase that always makes me a little guilty. He's an accountant and took over the practice that HIS father started. Neither my brother or I went into accounting and it looks like my father will sell his practice. The weird thing is that after my stints in engineering and then marketing, I now realize that I DO like figures and accounting type stuff! Maybe its not too late...who knows?