Family Ties Run Deep in U.S. Politics

ByABC News
February 5, 2004, 7:19 PM

Feb. 6 -- It's one thing if nepotism gets you a role in a movie, or in your father's real estate business, but shouldn't politics be different?

Watch John Stossel's full report tonight on 20/20.

Government has tremendous power over our lives. I'd think this would be one area where nepotism would be taboo. But I'm wrong again. In fact, I'm totally wrong.

American political dynasties have been in power for much of the past century. John F. Kennedy became president, and then appointed his brother Robert to be U.S. attorney general. Both Vice President Al Gore and his father were senators from Tennessee. And not only was George W. Bush's father president, but his great-grandfather was a U.S. senator.

And it isn't limited to presidential and vice presidential politics. Family connections are all over the capital. Colin Powell's son was appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Elaine Chao, was appointed secretary of Labor. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist's daughter, Janet, was appointed inspector-general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Michigan congressman John Dingell, a Democrat, now occupies the seat once held by his father. So do Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, Jim Duncan, R-Tenn., and Harold Ford, D-Tenn.

The father of the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, was a congressman.

So were the fathers of three current senators, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

Adam Bellow, author of In Praise of Nepotism, says we like this. "People love this," says Bellow, who is the son of novelist Saul Bellow. "They think it's terrific. If Americans didn't believe in nepotism, George Bush and Hillary Clinton would not be as popular as they are."

But Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, says nepotism in politics is a terrible thing.

"It combines the two most powerful motivations in Washington: procreation and power. And the benefit are the sons and daughters of the powerful elite."

Last year Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, gave up his Senate seat to become his state's governor.