Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fein's Anti-Dynasticism Amendment

Bruce Fein, who I respect greatly, is now proposing a constitutional amendment to prevent or at least limit the dynasticism concerns being raised now that we have the spectre of a Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton series of presidents. Fein's proposed amendment reads as follows:

Section 1. No spouse, sibling or child of an elected or appointed federal, state or local official outside the civil service may immediately succeed that official in the same elected or appointed office.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation, including exempting certain elected or appointed offices from its general proscription and defining the term “immediately succeed” to prevent circumventions.

While I understand the concerns behind such a proposal, I think it is a bad idea in principle, and ineffective as written.

First of all, it would do nothing to prevent the Bush-Clinton dynasticism that is presumably the impetus behind Fein's proposal. This is because of the requirement that the succession be "immediate."

Second, it limits the possible number of choices for the office. True this may be a "de minimis" limitation, since only at most a handful of people will be prevented from running. But such a restriction may not be as "de minimis" as it appears, since there is often only a small pool of potential candidates for a given office to begin with.

Third, it attempts to solve a problem borne out of too many restrictions on campaign finance by placing even more restrictions on getting elected.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the possibility of dynasticism will, I think diminish over time. The reason for this is simply the continuing growth of the internet. As the internet becomes increasingly accessible, traditional means of campaigning will become less important. Significantly the traditional means of campaigning (television, newspaper, radio) are almost prohibitively expensive (because there is a tight supply and high demand) meaning that a candidate must either raise a boatload of cash for publicitly or have free publicity in the form of established name recognition. This is why dynasticism has been relatively common in American politics- it's an incredibly cheap way of getting enough publicity to win a race.

With the rise of the internet as a significant means of campaigning, the value of pre-existing name recognition will decrease. The reason for this is very simple- the internet requires relatively little in the way of resources to develop a big following and increase name recognition. It is, as some commenters have noted, the closest thing yet created to a pure meritocracy. My analysis could change if something unforeseen happens that results in the restriction of the internet as a means of communication. But as of now, there is plenty of reason to think that dynasticism will become less and less of an issue as time goes on.

(HT: Andrew Sullivan)