Monday, July 14, 2008

Step aside, m'lord. I was elected to take your place.

Further to this post and this post, there is some sign of movement, however slow, in the British political system, on the issue of transforming the upper house of their Parliament, the House of Lords, to a partially- or fully-elected body. The British government will soon announce a plan to do so; but, according to the BBC, it's unlikely to go anywhere until after the next general election, which will probably be held in 2010.

We in America might say that we solved that issue almost a century ago. Originally, the Constitution provided for U.S. senators to be elected by the state legislatures. In 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified, which provided for direct election by the voters of each state. Even under the original system, there was democratic accountability, if a bit indirect, with senators being chosen by elected representatives. The U.S. never had a hereditary right of succession to any office.

However, we do have our dynasties, even though they're subject to election. The fathers of the following current U.S. Senators also served in the Senate: Bayh of Indiana, Dodd of Connecticut and Murkowski of Alaska. These others also had prominent political fathers: Casey of Pennsylvania, Kennedy of Massachusetts, Landrieu of Louisiana and Sununu of New Hampshire. And what more need be said about the junior senator from West Virginia: John D. Rockefeller IV?

At the other end of Pennsylvania Ave., it's of course well known that President George W. Bush's father was president and his paternal grandfather was a U.S. Senator. But did you know that his mother, Barbara Pierce Bush, is a fourth cousin, four times removed, of President Franklin Pierce?

We fought a revolution to free America from the control of a hereditary monarch, King George III, but have we really strayed that far from the hereditary principle?

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