Family Interests Do Not Belong in Public Affairs | Opinion

Powerful politicians have this bad habit of elevating members of their family—or the family of friends—to high office. Sometimes the chosen kin or friend's kin has fine qualifications. But the sense that their inside track gives them advantages over others with equally fine qualifications leaves a bad taste. It's also un-American.

Thomas Paine, a leading intellect of the American Revolution, condemned the system whereby the children of monarchs automatically replaced their forebears. "How a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into," he wrote.

Which brings us to the interesting case of Sarah Bloom Raskin. A former Federal Reserve governor and law professor at Duke University, she recently withdrew her nomination to become America's most powerful banking regulator.

Bloom Raskin certainly came with a strong resume. She also happened to be the wife of Representative Jamie Raskin, a prominent Democrat from Maryland.

She roused controversy for having opined that bank regulators should consider using their powers to speed the transition away from fossil fuels. This displeased the oil and gas industry, needless to say. It also rubbed several politicians the wrong way, not all of them Republicans.

Bloom Raskin is right that warming temperatures pose a threat to the economy. But her detractors are also correct in noting that the Fed's job is to ensure full employment and stable prices. It should not be in the business of denying credit to companies that produce or consume a lot of fossil fuels.

Bad schools and rotted roads are also bad for the economy. They need to be fixed, but that's not a mission for the Coast Guard.

Given this baggage, it's hard to see why President Joe Biden would have chosen Bloom Raskin for this prominent position—other than her marriage to an important legislator. Speaking of which, the same could be said of former President Donald Trump, who named the wife of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as secretary of Transportation. Elaine Chao did know something about transportation in that her family owns a shipping firm tied to China state companies. Imagine the opportunities!

Sarah Bloom Raskin
Sarah Bloom Raskin speaks before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 3, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Ken Cedeno-Pool/Getty Images

We haven't yet gotten to actual blood relatives or in-laws. There persists the troubling case of the president's son, Hunter Biden. The younger Biden has reportedly caught up on back taxes, and he has yet to be charged with any crime. But the feds continue investigating his foreign business dealings.

Hunter sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father served as Barack Obama's point man in Ukraine. Joe Biden apparently did no wrong here, but the right thing would have been to tell his son not to trade so shamelessly on the family name.

One hardly knows where to start with the Trumps. Donald hired his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior White House adviser, handing him a wide portfolio far above his capacities. Daughter Ivanka Trump was soon given a similar job. During official foreign visits, Trump would seat her at head tables. When the Chinese government granted Ivanka's fashion line a bunch of trademarks, no one was surprised.

The son-in-law of former U.S. attorney William Barr soon joined the Trump children in the White House. Rudy Giuliani's son was named associate director of the Office of Public Liaison.

America doesn't need royal families. The Kennedys started off strong with JFK, but why on Earth should we pay his screwball nephew, anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr., any mind?

There's always talk about younger Trumps vying for high office. Don Jr. and Eric? Saturday Night Live would be all for it. The ghost of Tom Paine would not—nor should we.

Froma Harrop is an award-winning journalist, author and syndicated columnist.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.