First Families in Japan, Mexico, and the United States: 1946-2001

Article excerpt

Donn M. Kurtz II (*)

ABSTRACT

One outcome of the American presidential election of 2000 was the certainty, before the ballots were cast, that the winner would be the product of a family with an extensive record of political activity. Inheriting and transmitting a family political legacy is a common feature of the careers of chief executives both here and abroad. Presidents and prime ministers in Japan, Mexico, and the United States who served in the second half of the twentieth century are broadly similar with respect to the incidence of family political connections, generational location, proximity of relationships, and the multi-member and multi-generational nature of their families. However, Mexican Presidents, and to a lesser extent Japanese Prime Ministers, are components of denser and more prominent family groups. The three groups of executives represent variations on a common theme; political families exist in all types of societies and systems and constitute a fixed element in the political universe.

One outcome of the American presidential election of 2000 was the certainty, before the ballots were cast, that the winner would be the product of a family with an extensive record of political activity. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush are the sons of prominent political figures, and in the case of Governor Bush, the history of family political involvement covers several generations. The author's recent research indicates that this pattern of inheriting and transmitting a family political legacy is a common feature of the careers of chief executives both here and abroad. An investigation of American presidents, from Washington through Clinton, found that three fourths of those presidents who had children had at least one of those offspring become politically active (Kurtz 1997a:73). Two other papers focusing on chief executives in office word-wide in 1990 revealed that about forty percent of those leaders had office-holding relatives (Kurtz 1999:218), and that the rate of following a relative into the politic al arena ranged from over a fourth in Africa to a high of nearly two-thirds in Latin America (Kurtz 1996:5).

The paper on presidential children (1997a) contributed to our knowledge of families in one system over a long period of time, but it was limited to a single country. The comparative papers (1996 and 1999) had the value of being based on a broad cross-national data set consisting of 122 effective heads of government, but examined leaders at only one point in time rather than over time and included a single executive per political system. The research reported on here takes a somewhat different approach by investigating the families of presidents and prime ministers in three countries, Japan, Mexico, and the United States, who served in the second half of the twentieth century. A study of three states over a period of more than fifty years provides both a comparative and an historical view of kinship connections at the highest level of national political leadership. The hypothesis is that the three systems will be essentially similar in terms of the political activity of the kinsmen of chief executives, but tha t variations in the extent and nature of that activity will exist, resulting in a slight differentiation of the United States from Mexico and Japan. It is expected that the data will support conclusions emphasizing the similarities and minimizing differences.

Japan, Mexico, and the United States commend themselves as case studies for several reasons. First, in Samuel P. Huntington's terminology, they represent three different civilizations (1996). Mexico is a part of the Latin American civilization; the United States is the premier example of a Western state; and Japan is the exclusive container of a unique civilization. Second, the three political systems have interesting similarities and differences. Mexico and the United States are presidential and federal in nature in contrast to the parliamentary and unitary character of Japan. …