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Political Nepotism Or Bribery? I Pick Bribery Every Time

Tuesday, 9 Dec 2008 | 3:13 PM ET
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Would you rather have a senator who bribed her way into office or a senator who was born into that office? I pick bribery.

What we’re seeing now is a comparative case study in the corruption of American politics. On the one hand, theGovernor of Illinois was just arrested for, among other things, attempting to auction off Barack Obama’s now vacant Senate seat. On the other hand, we have the Governor of New York possibly offering Hillary Clinton’s soon to be vacant Senate seat toJFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy.

Obviously what Governor Blagojevich did in Illinois is a crime, but let’s just take a step back and think about what you want in a politician who’s supposed to represent you. If Blagojevich had succeeded in his plan to auction off Illinois’ vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder, who would have won? The person who out-bribed the competition.

The ethics of bribery not withstanding, I would imagine it takes a great deal of political and business acumen to win that kind of auction. The sort of person who can negotiate a bribe with the Governor of notoriously corrupt Illinois can probably get things done in Washington.

Now I’ve got nothing against Caroline Kennedy, but if she gets Hillary’s seat it will be because she was born into power. That’s pretty much how we picked our last president, and look how he turned out. Bribing your way into the Senate is inherently more meritocratic than getting there because you belong to a famous political family.

I’m the last person on earth who would ever criticize nepotism, but there’s a difference between small-scale nepotism that helps young people with family connections get their foot in the door at their first job, and large-scale nepotism that ushers people into the halls of power because they’ve got a famous family name.

The first kind of nepotism is pretty benign. It’s the way a lot of people, including yours truly, start their careers. I don’t see anything wrong with it, because there’s only so far that sort of nepotism can take you. In fact, if you’ve got a nepotistic connection now and you’re balking at using it, don’t be a moron. In this economy, where everybody’s grasping at straws, you’re just a jerk if you’ve got a family connection that can land you a job and you don’t use it.

But Caroline Kennedy style nepotism, that’s terrible. I don’t want to live in a country that has an entrenched political aristocracy. Now, the 18 million Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary may disagree with me, but this kind of thing totally kills even the illusion that we live in a meritocratic society.

So please, Governor Paterson, don’t pass Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat back to another political dynasty. Auction the thing off if you have to, just as long as you give us some new blood.

Questions? Comments? Send them to millennialmoney@cnbc.com