February 6, 2014

28th Amendment: Bar children of Presidents from being President

One problem with Syria politically is that the stakes are too high: a single nuclear family, the Assads, has been ruling the country since 1970. This combination of president-for-life followed by president-for-next-life means that it's really, really important who grabs the presidency when it's up for grabs.

There are two obvious means to lower the stakes: term limits and bans on dynasticism.

Mexico limited presidents to a single six year term starting in the 1920s to lower the political pressure by assuring political players that if they live long enough they'll get another chance. Mexico has a lot of problems, but it hasn't had a convulsion like the Revolution that drove Porfirio Diaz from decades in power, killing a million people or so in the process, in a century. 

In the U.S., George Washington set a precedent of no more than two terms, but when FDR violated that in the 1940s, the 22nd Amendment, passed in 1951, added the two term limit to the Constitution. 

In places with less strong term limits, such as Russia, Turkey, and New York City, the term limit routinely gets junked when a politician is popular.

The other prong would be to legally restrict dynasticism. The United States has had two examples of children of Presidents succeeding to the White House:

- John Quincy Adams in 1824 -- 24 years after his father left office, after being a successful Secretary of State (the Monroe Doctrine), and in a country of 10 million people. After leaving the White House, Adams was elected to the House.

- George W. Bush in 2000 -- only 8 years after his father left office, after being governor of a state with a constitutionally imposed weak governorship, and in a country of 300 million people. After leaving the White House, Bush took up painting.

That's not really progress.

After JFK appointed RFK Attorney General, Congress passed a law in 1967 making that illegal:
(b) A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official. ... 
(3) “relative” means, with respect to a public official, an individual who is related to the public official as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.

That seems a little much, but the broader issue is less nepotism than dynasticism.

The problem with dynasticism is not just one family having the opportunity to hold on to political power for so long, but elevating nobodies like George W. Bush into Presidential Timber. Let's stop ourselves from indulging our dynastic predilections and take a symbolic stand by passing the following as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution:
SECTION 1. 
No person shall be elected to, succeed to, or in anyway hold the office of the President who is the child, biological or legally adopted, of another person who has held the office of President. But this article shall not apply to the children of any person holding the office of President or who had formerly held the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress.
SECTION 2. 
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.

In other words, just like the 22nd Amendment, passed by Congress in 1947, didn't apply to Harry Truman, Jeb Bush can still be President, Chelsea Clinton can be President, George W. Bush's kids can be President, Obama's kids can be President, and so forth. But the next President's kids don't get to be President. Therefore, if Hillary becomes President, then Chelsea is barred. (Surely 3 Presidents from one household is too many?)

In the long run, I'd also want to ban spouses of Presidents from becoming President as embarrassingly Banana Republicish, but I'll hold off on that until Hillary is no longer the Great Pink Hope.
   

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I bet Hillary wins.

Then we'll have a Bush (campaign argument: we've had a black, we've had a woman now we really need a Hispanic)

...and then Chelsea will be ready.

After that Obama's kids will be old enough and raring to go.

Republics die. I believe Venice held the record at around 900 years...

...one of Obama's offspring should be able to complete what their old man tried so hard to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

"In places with less strong term limits, such as Russia, Turkey, and New York City, the term limit routinely gets junked when a politician is popular.

Bloomberg was never particularly popular here. Giuliani was very popular with some people and very unpopular with others. Bloomy aroused fewer passions either way. Giuliani wanted a third term too, and the people would have probably voted for him, but as I remember, he couldn't get the City Council to repeal his term limit. Bloomy managed it because he had money.

Separately from that and in general, the powers that be prefer power to be diffuse. Their worst nightmares involve strong, populist leaders. Personal power, one-man rule, is felt by them to be too unpredictable.

By the way, modern China has an informal term limit at the top job. Ten years, from what I understand.

Anonymous said...

If there is an economic collapse in the near future, it will probably lead to populist one-man rule after about a decade of chaos. It's a time-tested historical pattern.

The French Revolution started in 1789. Napoleon came to power in 1799. Germany lost WWI in late 1918, quickly descending into economic and political chaos. Hitler came to power in early 1933. The Russian Revolution occurred in 1917. Stalin consolidated one-man rule around 1929. Russia descended into chaos again around 1990. Putin came to power in 2000.

For whatever reason, it takes civilized societies a bit more than a decade on average to get so sick of chaos that the pendulum swings the other way, towards authority/ dictatorship.

I guess Greece is officially in the middle of its chaotic decade right now.

If there is an economic collapse in the US, who might consolidate one-man rule at the end of a decade of mayhem? It could be a senior military officer who has recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would be interesting to look through potential candidates' biographies online. My guess is that in this scenario the system of elections and the name of the office would be preserved, but the powers of the office would be greatly expanded, at least de facto.

Petey said...

The fact that so many countries, democratic or not, wind up with children/wives of past leaders in charge suggests to me that this is a fairly constant compulsion of human nature. I'm not sure we need busybody laws trying to prevent this.

What's next, an amendment saying no good-looking people shall be president? A lot of people just blindly vote for whoever seems hot. Why not crack down on that scourge, too? Where do you draw the line on what sorts of politicians the people should not be "allowed" to elect?

jody said...

they already don't obey the constitution, why would they obey this? in case you haven't been paying attention, they aren't keen on some of the original, rock solid amendments which, until 2000 or so, almost nobody disputed the authority of, even the furthest left liberal politicians.

spurious, late comer amendments are chaff easily ignored in the political milieu of 2014. in fact, i wonder if another amendment will ever be passed. well, i guess there might be another one, once democrats are in full control. something completely ridiculous in all likelyhood. an amendment lowering the voting age to 12, perhaps. or an amendment conferring personhood on animals, maybe. that's just as logical as decreeing that all humans on earth are now US citizens, which seems to be the current thrust of democrat politics.

we're past the point of beginning the descent into banana republic. certainly not all the way there, but the initial signs of movement in that direction are evident.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I like this idea of the 28th Amendment barring offspring of Presidents from becoming elected and serving as President but only if you would include a few important provisions.

Just as Congress enacted a ban on all direct relatives of a President from public office, the additional proviso would extend not just to a President's offspring but also to first cousins; nephews/nieces; and grandchildren.

Example: In this version of the 28th Amendment, George P. Bush is out of luck and will have to search elsewhere for a career. He would be permanently barred from seeking the Presidency as would ALL of Jeb's offspring and the other members of the Bush clan.

On principle of no banana republics, Hillary on the fact alone should be barred. This would also include barring Chelsea (whom up to now it must fairly be said has not shown an interest whatsoever in public office)

It is far too early to determine with Obama's children but they off course would be automatically barred as they are the children of an elected president and thus would be permanently barred as would their offspring.

If you would add these necessary provisions to the Amendment, similar in fact to the '67 Congressional public office ban on relatives, and the US would have an interesting term limit on public service.

Perhaps if the Bush clan is taken out of action one of Strom Thurmond's offspring could decide to take up the cause and attempt to run for the presidency.

Anonymous said...

http://gawker.com/who-wants-to-remember-bill-cosbys-multiple-sex-assaul-1515923178?utm

anon from turkey said...

"In places with less strong term limits, such as Russia, Turkey, and New York City, the term limit routinely gets junked when a politician is popular."

In Turkey presidential term limit has never been junked. Before 1960 there just were no limits. After that even those presidents that came with a coup went when their term was up.

Prime ministers don't have term limits. Erdogan does because of his party's by-laws. He promised to adhere to that, but he keeps silent as his last term is running up. I expect him to renege as he has as much honor as a louse on a hooker's crotch.

On question of dynasticism; most influential PMs before Erdogan, Demirel (centre right) and Ecevit (center left) were both childless, not by coincidence I would say. (Founding president Ataturk was also childless)
Founders of Islamist and Nationalist conservative parties tried to leave their seats to their children. Although they ruled their parties with absolute authority they both failed. Delegates of the nationalist party, hand picked by previous leader, elected a childless leader instead of the son of the previous.

Current Premier Camacho is a different story, but he won't be able to retire peacefully because of that. He will spend the last of his days with his Saudi buddies, as Idi Amin did, if he's lucky.

Desi Pride World Wide! said...

"One problem with Syria politically is that the stakes are too high: a single nuclear family, the Assads, has been ruling the country since 1970."

- Its been the same dad and son since 70?

In India we have a state that has been ruled for about two decades by the same husband and wife team, alternating between them. They switch governor roles between each others jail time.



CJ said...

Interesting speculation, but right now the problem of bureaucrats and politicians going into K Street lobbying and receiving cushy corporate jobs/consulting gigs as rewards is a much bigger problem than presidential dynasties. The scariest scandal today is what's legal. I would actually pay/pension politicians more generously but bar them from employment with anything remotely political after leaving office.

Anonymous said...

For whatever reason, it takes civilized societies a bit more than a decade on average to get so sick of chaos that the pendulum swings the other way, towards authority/ dictatorship.

I guess Greece is officially in the middle of its chaotic decade right now.


Greece is not a good test since it's not sovereign in any sense.
It's a dependency of Germany. Germany in turn is a vassal state of the US. Is there any historical precedent for that sort of arrangement?

Hunsdon said...

As a Texan, I always simply dismissed him as the villain in the morality play that was our history, but Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (or for us gringos, just "Santa Anna") was his own dynasty.

An interesting, nay, fascinating man, and I've done him a disservice all these years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_L%C3%B3pez_de_Santa_Anna

thirdtwin said...

"In the long run, I'd also want to ban spouses of Presidents from becoming President..."

There is no time for the long run. Do it now, before the Obamas invest too much in buying Mooch's Senate seat.

Anonymous said...

You should at least mention William Henry Harrison and grandson Benjamin. William didn't survive long in office. We also had a prominent and accomplished Robert, son William H Taft. If memory serves, Robert never ran for president.

Felix M said...

Could the constitution for the State of NY be amended to provide that a person cannot be a city mayor for more than two terms? This would presumably be a fairly strong bulwark against popularists obtaining indefinite tenure.

Torn and Frayed said...

According to your proposition Chelsea would NOT be barred:

"But this article shall not apply to the children of any person holding the office of President or who had formerly held the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress."

Since she is legally (if not biologically) the daughter of a former President, this law does not apply to her.

The Z Blog said...

My solution goes the opposite direction. The constitution should limit the number of years anyone can be employed by the federal government or receive benefits from the government. You get ten years. Plan accordingly.

I would make exceptions for military. We can't have 28 year old generals retiring. Otherwise, you get to hang around DC for ten years and then you go back to the dreaded private sector for good.

Anonymous said...

Of course, the worst modern day dynasty are the Kims of North Korea. And with the current one only in his late 20's, we might as well get used to them for the foreseeable future. Of course, it is possible that Jong-un is the worst one yet, which is good in the sense that it might lead to a conflict resulting in his premature demise. If the rumors that the Chinese are spreading are true (about how he had his uncle executed), then he is at a whole different level of evil than his father and grandfather. We're talking Hannibal Lecter-meets-Emperor Palpatine levels of psychopathy here.

Anonymous said...

There have been a couple of other dynastic examples with the American presidency. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of Willian H. Harrison, and of course the two Roosevelts were part of the same clan.

Dahinda said...

If we had a competent news media, the nobody relatives of presidents would never rise above the Billy Carter level of coverage. They certainly would not be spun up as geniuses, like Hilary or Chelsea or even Michelle Obama are!

Mr. Anon said...

"The problem with dynasticism is not just one family having the opportunity to hold on to political power for so long, but elevating nobodies like George W. Bush into Presidential Timber."

To be fair to George W. Bush, Obama is a nobody too. Although he is not the product of a dynasty; Obama is a self-made nobody.

Mr. Anon said...

"CJ said...

Interesting speculation, but right now the problem of bureaucrats and politicians going into K Street lobbying and receiving cushy corporate jobs/consulting gigs as rewards is a much bigger problem than presidential dynasties."

Quite so. Well said.

Bill said...

One problem with Syria politically is that the stakes are too high: a single nuclear family, the Assads, has been ruling the country since 1970. This combination of president-for-life followed by president-for-next-life means that it's really, really important who grabs the presidency when it's up for grabs.

There are two obvious means to lower the stakes: term limits and bans on dynasticism.


This all seems pretty backwards to me. What's toxic is not the stakes but the uncertainty. When there is a clear, non-violent, and generally accepted rule for succession, then you don't get violence.

The Tudors and Stuarts managed to succeed one another at King for a couple of centuries even though the stakes were pretty high. The Bourbons managed the same feat in France. The recent successions in N Korea, Jordan, Syria, and S Arabia all seem to have gone quite well---all these were high stakes.

There is no fight going on about succession in Syria. There is the US/EU/Israel/Sunni Arabs trying to overthrow the Syrian monarch.

countenance said...

I don't think we should even have a President. It's becoming too much power for any one person, present occupant included but not exclusive. I think our form of government should be neo-parliamentary, non-partisan distributed/open-source. And of course, ethnonationalist.

A few weeks ago, I tried arguing with some fool on a YouTube thread. He thought that the fact that a lot of Presidents are loosely related to each other is representative of some conspiracy. I tried to straighten him out by saying that that's what happens in a true nation, i.e. a very very loosely inbred group of people, that the people who would be heads of state are at least loosely related to each other and also to the people they serve, just as the people they serve are all loosely related to each other. The only Presidential relationships to me that matter are the close ones, father-son Bush, father-son Adams, grandfather-grandson Harrison and second cousins James Madison and Zachary Taylor.

I might as well have been talking to a brick wall.


ironrailsironweights said...

We may not be done with presidential dynasties. Caroline Kennedy's been pretty busy these days.

Peter

Melendwyr said...

I don't believe we're likely to ever see another amendment to the Constitution. Everyone is afraid of what might happen if that door were cracked open even a little.

If people want to exert the power of the State in exciting new directions, they just 'reinterpret' the 'living document'. It's not obvious to me what difference it would make if the thing actually were amended at this point.

Percy Gryce said...

Steve, no need to perpetuate bad legal drafting in your proposed amendment. Laymen and bad draftsmen think "shall" sounds really legal, so they use it everywhere. The best meaning for "shall" is "has a duty to." See Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009), s.v. "shall."

So here is a revision:

SECTION 1.

No person may be elected to, succeed to, or in anyway hold the office of the President who is the child, biological or legally adopted, of another person who has held the office of President. But this article does not apply to the children of any person holding the office of President or who had formerly held the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress.

SECTION 2.

This article is not effective unless it has been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.

Anonymous said...

we no longer need amendments; we've got a flexible supreme court.

Mr Drab said...

Doesn't the inter-generational political dominance of certain families support Gregory Clark's thesis in The Son Also Rises?

Clark: "In all societies, what seems to matter is just who your parents are. At the extreme, we see in modern Sweden an extensive system of public education and social support. Yet underlying mobility rates are no higher in modern Sweden than in pre-industrial Sweden or medieval England."

He also notes that even in revolutionary societies, such as in Communist China, people with aristocratic surnames also turn up at the top, showing that once again Darwin trumps Marx.

British columnist Ed West:

"The same is probably true in this country [Britain]; apart from those with recent immigrant ancestry, I imagine that many of the most influential and powerful people on the British Left descend from people who were also influential and powerful. In fact even among those of immigrant stock, a large number seem to descend from the rulers back in the old country. Many radical leaders in history proclaimed humble roots but actually came from fairly distinguished backgrounds; back in 1196 an uprising in London was led by one ‘William the Beard’, who demanded the rich pay more tax, grew his hair in tribute to his humble Saxon ancestry and called himself the ‘advocate of the people’, although his actual name, William Fitz-Osbert, suggests an altogether different ancestry.

What could explain Clark’s findings? One of the most obvious reasons that springs to mind is that intelligence is just another privilege you inherit from your parents, and that lots of those qualities needed to reach the top are also hereditary (and even if your son doesn’t inherit them, you can marry him off to someone who does and so loading the dice for the next generation)."

Full article:

Meritocracy doesn’t work. It’s in the Left’s interest to recognise this

Reg Cæsar said...

Republics die. I believe Venice held the record at around 900 years...

Didn't Venice at one point outlaw possession of pistols, and even enforced it with the death penalty? I would think that alone would disqualify them from republican status.

Mr. Anon said...

How about this? 28th amendment: Bar anybody who WANTS to be President from becoming President.

Anonymous said...

FDR's two terms ended in 1940. Had the two-term limit been in effect then, America might not have been manipulated by him and his cronies into WW2. A different and probably better alternate history would have been achieved.

Dunnyveg said...

Actually, I think we would be much better served with an amendment stipulating drug tests for politicians and intelligence tests for voters.