I never mentioned Caroline Kennedy (Princess Caroline, as right-wing bloggers like to call her) during all the “Will she or won’t she?” hoopla, in part because I was busy, and in part because I didn’t really care. Nepotism is a fact of life, folks. Is and always has been. Here in New Mexico especially. A few months ago my fellow New Mexican voters elected Jerome Block, Jr., to the Public Regulation Commission and Ben Ray Luján to the U.S. House of Representatives. Both were young, inexperienced men without much personal qualification but with the good fortune to share a name with their politically powerful dads. A lot of people thought they were voting for the dads, I suspect. Oh well. The American electorate cares more about sports and reality shows than about good government, so unless we want to reinstate political literacy tests again we’re stuck with this sort of thing.
Maybe being a Roman historian has something to do with my fatalistic acceptance of nepotism. In the Roman Republic, being the son and grandson and great-great-great-great-grandson of consuls wasn’t something you had to explain away (yes, my dad was President, but please don’t hold that against me). On the contrary, it was practically a requirement. The Romans called a man who was the first in his family to be elected consul a novus homo (new man), and it was a pretty big deal when one of them made an end run around the old boy network and slipped into power. In the last century of the Republic, I think there were only two of them, Gaius Marius and Cicero, both oddly enough from the same small town. Cicero cracked the system because he was a golden-tongued orator much like our own novus homo Barack Obama. But for every Cicero there were scores of political hacks who got where they were on dad’s and grandpa’s coattails – or, more accurately, I suppose, togatails.
Does my complacency about political nepotism mean I want to see Caroline Kennedy and Amy Carter or Jeb Bush and Michael Reagan as the next winning presidential ticket? I think you know me better than that. The small shred of idealism buried deep inside my cynical husk hopes that just as the Democrats found their Cicero, we Republicans can find our Gaius Marius.