Jared Kushner, Bobby Kennedy and the history of nepotism

Donald Trump’s campaign was very much a family business, making frequent use of his children and other relatives. It makes sense then that he is attempting to bring his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, into the White House as a special advisor.

However, Democrats claim that this violates anti-nepotism laws. The idea is that politicians shouldn’t reward their family with well-paying posts once they’re elected. This makes sense – but many believe that the law came about not out of high-minded principle but simple revenge.

The instance of nepotism that supposedly inspired the law was John F. Kennedy’s appointment of his brother Bobby to the post of Attorney General in 1961. Like Kushner, Bobby had been closely involved with his family member’s campaign, and both were politically inexperienced. RFK had no legal experience, which his brother noted when he quipped: “I can’t see that it’s wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law.”

Bobby Kennedy became extremely influential in government, both carrying out his duties as Attorney General and advising the President. This brought him into conflict with the man who was officially the second most powerful man in the country, the Vice President Lyndon Johnson. (Allegedly, Robert had tried to cancel his brother’s offer to put Johnson on the ticket.) The two loathed each other, with Johnson once commenting: “I’ll cut his throat if it’s the last thing I do.” (This from people who were supposedly on the same side.)

Although Bobby had the upper-hand in their confrontations, this changed in November 1963. When the elder Kennedy brother was assassinated, Johnson immediately assumed the Presidency, and Bobby now worked for him. Johnson called Bobby right after his brother’s death, not to console him but to rub in the new power dynamic.

Their feud grew worse than ever, particularly with Bobby still serving in a role that Johnson believed he’d got thanks to his family connections. While some of JFK’s inner circle left, Bobby stayed on, as if determined not to let Johnson have his way. He felt that Johnson’s continually stole JFK’s legacy.

Bobby eventually left to run for Senate in 1964. Johnson still despised the entire Kennedy clan and worried that Bobby – or even his younger brother Teddy – would challenge him in future.

In 1967, an amendment was added to a bill (apparently at Johnson’s behind-the-scenes urging) which would prevent public officials from naming their relatives to posts. This prevented dynasties like the Kennedys from giving each other positions to help promote their career.

In the end, the amendment wasn’t needed for its intended purpose. Bobby was also assassinated in 1967 and Teddy’s Presidential campaign fell short.

There are a number of loopholes that might let Jared Kushner take his job. Some say that son-in-law is too distant to count under the relatives clause, while others have argued that the law doesn’t apply to the President’s own staff. Interestingly, as the parties fight it out over the legal wording, it seems that something hasn’t changed over the years – the law is still something to beat political opponents with.