- - Thursday, August 15, 2013

John Adams and his son, John Quincy, were the second and sixth presidents. George H.W. Bush and son George W. were 41 and 43. Joe Kennedy dreamed of sending three or four sons to the White House and might have succeeded with two or three, but tragedy intervened. Throw in a few Cuomos, Daleys, Rockefellers and Tafts, and for a republic founded on aversion to kings and royal rogues, political dynasties have prospered here.

Family ties can make politics profitable in the entertainment culture, where celebrity trumps all. President Obama last month nominated Caroline Kennedy to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan, and Chelsea Clinton told interviewers in Rwanda, where she was touring, that she “is purposely living a public life” so that she might one day follow Mom and Dad into public housing.

Caroline Kennedy, 55, is a lawyer and author with considerable personal charm, but no foreign-policy experience. Nevertheless, the Kennedy name is valuable at home, and the Japanese are particularly addicted to American celebrities.

Chelsea Clinton, 33, has slightly different credentials. She has no record in public life, beyond an undistinguished brief and part-time career as a television journalist, but she’s the daughter not only of a president, but of a secretary of state as well.

She has to tiptoe around certain family baggage left on the front steps. “I’m also grateful to live in a city, and a state and country where really I believe in my elected officials,” she told Politico, the political daily. “And if someday either of those weren’t true, and I thought I could make more of a difference in the public sector, or if I didn’t like how my city or my state or my country were being run, then I’d have to ask and answer that question.”

Given the squalid face that Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner have put on New York, she might have avoided such implied but inevitable references to dear old Dad. She should probably stick to talking points about opportunities in other places, as she did in an interview with CNN, about “changing market dynamics” in underdeveloped nations and opportunities to improve the lives of underprivileged children.

If she insists on public office, where should she start? Children of privilege usually want to start as close to the top as possible, but she might usefully study the long trajectory of a political family in neighboring New Jersey. In 1720, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, an evangelist of the Dutch Reformed Church and an influential figure in the Great Awakening, arrived in colonial New Jersey from Germany, where his family of theologians and politicians would live for generations. Frelinghuysens first entered U.S. politics in 1793, when Frederick, grandson of the preacher, served in the Continental Congress in 1779, led a regiment in the Revolutionary War, and finally won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Since then, seven generations of Frelinghuysens have represented New Jersey on the state and federal level. The late Peter Frelinghuysen, a Republican, served 11 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. His son, Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, has represented his father’s old House district since 1995.

The Frelinghuysens never achieved either the notoriety of the Kennedys or the Clintons or the distinction of the Adamses and the Bushes, but succeeded away from the glare of cameras and narcissistic overreach. Once upon a time, ladies, that’s the way it was.

The Washington Times