October 19, 2010


A pervasive problem that can become severe with long incumbency                               [Main Story]

Nepotism is a complex and very sensitive issue, and I want to stay far from it. But because of its potential connection to
incumbency—especially extended incumbency—it it is perhaps prudent to at least mention it, for what it’s worth.

Here’s how Dana Milbank began a 2002 “White House Notebook” column in the Washington Post—the details representing, of course, the facts on the ground at the time she wrote. President George W. Bush happened to be in office at the time, but it might have been any other president:

“In the Bush administration, governing is a family matter.

“Two weeks ago, the State Department announced that Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president’s daughter, would become a deputy assistant secretary of state. Her husband, Philip Perry, last week left the Justice Department to become chief counsel for the Office of Management and Budget [OMB]. There, Cheney’s son-in-law will join OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., whose sister, Deborah Daniels, is an assistant attorney general.

“That’s just the beginning. Among Deborah Daniels’s colleagues at Justice is young Chick James, whose mother, Kay Coles James, is the director of the Office of Personnel Management, and whose father, Charles Sr., is a top Labor Department official. Charles James Sr.’s boss, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, knows about having family members in government: Her husband is Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and her department’s top lawyer, Labor Solicitor Eugene Scalia, is the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia” (Washington Post, Mar. 12, 2002, p. A19).

What was true of the Bush administration was undoubtedly true of administrations before it, both Democratic and Republican. Witness, to mention one example, President John F. Kennedy (Democrat) appointing his own brother to the powerful post of attorney general.

One might conclude that the problem of nepotism, bad as it might be in the short term, would only worsen under a system of unlimited incumbency.