What do Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Doug Ford, Christine Elliott and Rachel Notley all have in common?
They are the children, siblings or spouses of prominent politicians who have followed in their parents’, siblings’ or spouses’ footsteps in running for office. These “legacy” politicians are increasingly prominent in Canadian and American politics, oftentimes benefiting from their family connections.
Why is this becoming more and more common?
Part of it might simply be a passion that runs in the family. This happens in the private sector, as companies like Ford and Koch Industries continue to be run by the families who founded them. Children can share their parents’ interests, in politics as much as anything else.
In politics, familiarity can also play a part. Some of Justin Trudeau’s critics say that a lot of his support comes from the same baby-boomers who supported his father Pierre. In his races to become Mayor of Toronto and then leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Doug Ford tried to get his brother Rob’s “Ford Nation” supporters to support him. Voters might be comfortable with politicians they feel they already know and have a connection to.
But is the rise of legacy politicians really a good thing?
In some cases, the legacy politicians’ actual performances in office may be less than impressive. George Bush badly damaged the U.S.’s finances and credibility by starting a war in Iraq under false pretenses and paying its trillion-dollar costs on credit. Justin Trudeau has bungled a long series of issues, ranging from electoral reform to Indigenous relations, with his gaffe-plagued trip to India being just the latest fiasco. In those cases, one might ask if the legacy politicians would have gotten as far as they did if they had different last names.
Another problem can be a sense of entitlement. This was considered one of Hillary Clinton’s major weaknesses when she ran for the U.S. presidency. She was seen as deserving the Democratic nomination because it was “her turn”, having lost the 2008 nomination race to Barack Obama. Unfortunately, this didn’t help her with voters who wanted to shake up the status quo and ended up supporting Donald Trump.
These kinds of problems are the reason most countries that used to be ruled by royalty have either abolished their monarchies or reduced their kings and queens to ceremonial roles while elected politicians run the government. Legacy politicians can have the same problems as monarchs in that they get their positions through their family lines rather than merit, and feel as though they are entitled to office. The checks and balances of democracy can offset these problems to some extent, but the dangers are still there.
Are legacy politicians automatically bad? No, and it’s possible that they can prove themselves. However, the issues that can come with legacy politicians show how important it is for voters to consider just why they are supporting a particular politician.
Family names and familiarity are not the best reasons for doing so.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.