Thursday, January 8, 2004

13. Politics keep it in the family

Upon taking office, President Bush appointed Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Elaine Chao, wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, became secretary of labor and her labor attorney is Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The Vice-President's daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, became deputy assistant secretary of state and her husband became chief counsel for the Office of Management and Budget. Finally, although not a complete listing, Bush appointed twenty-eight year old Storm Thurmond Jr. to U.S. attorney for South Carolina. So much for all men created equal- so much for equal opportunity employment. Of course, George W. Bush himself is a third generation Republican, with his grandfather, father and brother all serving in politics. By excising political appointments to such a degree of nepotism, staff meetings serve to double as family reunions.

Nepotism is nothing new in the history of man. Although it began long before, it was defined in the 14th century to depict the corrupt practice of appointing papal relations to office. Tribal leaders anointed their sons, monarchies ruled for centuries and modern governments operate on the premise that "to the victors go the spoils"- a term first coined when Andrew Jackson appointed a number of supporters to office, many of which were common folk and unqualified. To denounce its existence is an exercise in futility.

Its premise is understandable- who doesn't want the best for his or her children? Who doesn't want their children to take over upon resigning a position of power? And it is true; sometimes the children are the most qualified- especially in family businesses in which they grow up.

But this America, are we not all are born equal and to be judged on our accomplishments and hard work- not our last name? It is not suppose to be a meritocracy? Of course, any student of history knows better. America has consistently discriminated against women, minorities and the poor. Hard work has never had anything to do with it.

Nepotism today is referred to the practice of not just hiring a relative, but a hideously incompetent one. Outside of governments, it is prevalent in business, Hollywood and sports. It is easy to understand the resentment bestowed upon those whose path to success is paved with the bricks of entitlement, bypassing the roadblocks that hinder and frustrate others. Furthermore, and regrettably, arrogance usually accompanies entitlement- accounting for the lack of empathy for the unprivileged. Not only do the privileged grow up in affluence and attend the best schools, but they also get the contacts, interviews and references. Often, the silver platter is an office, with a view, and a vice-president title immediately out of college- with little regard for those who truly have to work their way up the corporate ladder.

The problem is that nepotism breaks at the weakest link. The consistent hiring of the anything other than the "most qualified applicant" opens the door to failure. Monarchies were lost to incompetence; businesses to the lack of leadership- for appointments were based on relationships rather than accomplishments. The press in describing the collapse of Indonesia, where nepotism is rampant, uses words like "collusion," "corruption," and "blatant" to describe the effects of nepotism on its country.

An author on the subject describes a "new nepotism." Whereas "old nepotism" was the insistence of the parent that sons and daughters follow in their footsteps; "new nepotism" is the seeking behavior of children who have discovered that making on their own is too difficult. Either way the practice is here to stay, and those, like myself, who despises the system had better come to understand that there is little that can be done about it. Currently, 95% of all businesses are family owned, including 40% of all Fortune 500 companies.

George W. Bush, in his appointments, acted in the same manner as nearly every other president. However his appointments have been a bit excessive, to the point that one naturalized citizen remarked, "I emigrated for this?" What else could be expected from someone who rode into office on his father's coat tails? The problem for most is his arrogance. A quote once directed at his father, by then-Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower, more aptly describes his attitude, "Here is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

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