Heredity can act as a handy shortcut around the high barriers to entry of the modern campaign. The financial costs of running a ground operation, hiring consultants and airing television ads have skyrocketed. The increasingly celebretized nature of politics has turned politicians families into stories in their own right. And the advantage of name recognition may be surpassed only by the political networks of high-powered supporters that come with it. There is also the advantage of experience. These candidates start young, dragged to county fairs and Fourth of July parades from their earliest years, and grow up knocking on doors and passing out yard signs.
Notice that it's experience in campaigning rather than experience in administration that counts. Not just governing but running for office seems to have become a specialized trade that one must start young at, preferably in apprenticeship to one's own parents. Miller provides troubling statistics, most notably that the percentage of congressmen who've had "a close relative who has served in the Capitol" has been rising from a historic low in 1960, though we aren't yet close to the historic high of the 1790s, when we were probably the closest we'd get to a real aristocracy. The prospect of a 21st century political aristocracy of Cheneys, Bushes, Pauls, Clintons, Cuomos, Kennedys, etc. may be the best argument for a policy I've never really warmed to, which is the public financing of campaigns. Term-limiting entire families, as some might want, doesn't necessarily eliminate the "high barriers to entry," which themselves encourage recourse to familiar names. If those barriers encourage the sort of dynastic politics that the Founders (presumably excepting John Adams) presumably abhorred, the barriers should be lowered, either through public financing on the demand side or controlling the cost of advertising on the supply side. Public financing should always leave us concerned about the gatekeeper role of whoever controls the purse, but reducing the cost of campaigning, or liberating it from inappropriate market rules, is a less worrisome option -- unless you depend on advertising revenue from politicians and PACs.
On the other hand, we might look to instruction from the Roman Empire -- not the Republic this time. During the age of the Antonines, the supposed golden age of the Empire in the second century of the Common Era, the virtuous emperors cultivated talented proteges from outside the family. Out of respect to the dynastic principle of legitimacy that had prevailed in Rome, the emperors adopted their proteges to make them their heirs. When Marcus Aurelius gave up the practice in favor of his natural son Commodus, things started falling apart. Adopting an adult into your family for political purposes might look awkward in 21st century eyes, but adopting the practice in the U.S. could combine the best features of aristocracy and meritocracy while maintaining the indispensable integrity of the family brand. For those who tremble over regulating the trade in political ads, this modest proposal may appeal to the extent that it reduces family, with its overtones of unwelcome aristocracy and potential degeneracy, to a pure brand that could long outlive the usefulness of the original biological line. If no better option is possible in today's partisan climate, we should at least think about this option -- if only because doing so might make us reconsider the impossible.