Kennedys, Bushes and... Dingells? American political dynasties

Story highlights

  • Politics is often a family business -- not exactly what the founding fathers intended
  • Nonetheless, our country has a long history of political dynasties
  • The Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton families are just a few of the political dynasties
  • The Dingells have been in Congress since the Great Depression

The whole point of the founding of this country was that government wasn't supposed be a family business, but we've got dynasties nonetheless. The sixth American president, John Quincy Adams, was the son of the second president (John Adams), after all.

Now there's Debbie Dingell, the much younger wife of octogenarian John Dingell, running for the seat he announced last week that he'll leave after 58 years.

That's a record, by the way.

There's been a Dingell on Capitol Hill every year since 1933... since Franklin Roosevelt was president and there was a Depression going on.

That's a much better record than the Kennedys.

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There were two years -- between 2011 when Rep. Patrick Kennedy resigned, and 2013 when Rep. Joe Kennedy III was sworn in -- without a Kennedy on Capitol Hill or any elected office since 1947.

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So add the Dingells, on a smaller scale, to the Bushes and the Clintons. Not a presidential cycle goes by without somebody talking about a Clinton or a Bush running.

It's too much for one dynasty's matriarch.

"Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, there are just more families than that," Barbara Bush said recently.

That hasn't stopped her son Jeb, the former Florida governor, from teasing a bid for president and arguing his name would actually hurt him.

"I get the point. It's something that, if I run, I would have to overcome that. And so will Hillary, by the way. Let's keep the same standards for everybody," he said last week in New York.

Jeb Bush might or might not run for president. But the Bush dynasty will live on. Jeb's son, George P. Bush, is the odds-on favorite to win in his campaign for Texas land commissioner this year.

There are a lot of smaller political families in the 50 states. Up on Capitol Hill, take the U.S. Senate, which has 100 members. A full third -- 33 of them -- are the father, son, mother, daughter, husband or wife of at least one other public official, according to a CNN analysis.

There are Udalls and Landrieus, Murkowskis and Pryors, Pauls and Roberts. And many more.

In the Senate, politics is the family business

Why so many family names in American politics?

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In recent years on Capitol Hill we've seen Pauls, Ron and Rand; Levins, Sander and Carl; and Udalls, Tom and Mark.

The brand alone won't win an election, but it brings instant name recognition. And in this era of big, expensive campaigns, name recognition can be priceless.

Some dynasties are harder to maintain than others. The Liz Cheney for Senate campaign didn't last long. And the attempt to reboot the Quayle name foundered when former Vice President Dan Quayle's son, Ben, lost his House seat after one term.

And the Nunns -- former Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter, Michelle, is a Democrat running in a red state for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. So are the Carters -- former President Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason, is running for governor there.