Can We Please Elect Someone Else ?
Michael Barone thinks it’s time that America ended it’s obsession with the Clinton and Bush families:
Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. It sounds like the Wars of the Roses: Lancaster, York, Lancaster, York.
To compare our political struggles to the conflicts between rival dynasties may be carrying it too far. But we have become, I think, a nation that is less small-r republican and more royalist than it used to be. Viscerally, this strikes me as a bad thing. But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve decided that something can be said for the increasing royalism of our politics. And whether you like it or not, you can’t deny it’s there. Not when the wife of the 42nd president is a leading candidate to succeed the 43rd president who in turn is the son of the 41st president. The two George Bushes are referred to in their family, we are told, as 41 and 43. If Hillary Clinton wins, will she and her husband call each other 42 and 44?
And, when you think about it, it’s even worse than that. Starting with the 1976 Presidential Election, there has not been a single Presidential election where someone with the last name Bush, Clinton, or Dole was not on the ticket of one party or the other. Now, it looks like that trend will continue into 2008, and quite possibly, 2012 if Hillary manages to win the election. Is that really what we want ? A nation ruled by a handful of families ?
As Barone points out, this is part of a trend that has been developing for years:
There was always a risk of royalism under our Constitution, with the president both head of government and head of state. But for a long time politicians struggled against it. George Washington turned down a crown. John Adams did not make public the scintillating intellect of his wife Abigail. For half the time in the first 40 years of the 19th century there was no first lady at all: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren were widowers when they took office. After the Civil War, politics revolved so much around parties rather than presidents–can you name all the presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt?–that in the 1880s the future President Woodrow Wilson wrote a book called “Congressional Government.”
The drift toward royalism is a 20th-century phenomenon. At first it was concealed. Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had strong-willed, intelligent wives and broods of children who went on to impressive achievements. But they didn’t make much of this public. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, a Southerner who died early in his presidency, reportedly pushed for racial segregation in federal building cafeterias, while his second wife effectively ran the White House while he was incapacitated by a stroke–neither something you’d want to talk about even now. Lou Henry Hoover, an engineering school classmate of her husband, directed her public energies to promoting the Girl Scouts. With Eleanor Roosevelt, we come to the first first lady with a political identity of her own. But she was just one of many courtiers in her husband’s White House, and not necessarily the most influential.
And, quite honestly, it was all downhill from there. The Presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower were a brief diversion from the trend of the President and First Lady as Royal Family, but that image was solidified for good during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy who, along with a wife who could have passed for a European Royal, did more to turn the American Presidency from just a job to a title than anyone before him.
And, just in case you think this can’t last forever, Barone points this out:
[I]t’s no sure thing that a Clinton will follow a Bush who followed a Clinton who followed a Bush. But keep the following in the back of your mind. George P. Bush will be eligible to run for president in 2012. Chelsea Clinton will be eligible to run for president in 2016. So will Jenna and Barbara Bush, who will turn 35 several days after the election. And Jeb Bush, who had a fine record in eight years as governor of Florida, will be younger in 2024 than John McCain will be in 2008 or Ronald Reagan was in 1984. Royalism may be here to stay.
Sadly, he may be right.