- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. didn’t get the vacant Illinois Senate seat.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t get the Democratic presidential nomination, taking the job of secretary of state as a consolation prize.

And Caroline Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo lost out to an obscure two-term upstate congresswoman for the New York Senate seat once held by Mrs. Clinton.

Whatever happened to American democracy’s traditional deference to political dynasties?

Call it Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton fatigue syndrome, or perhaps the new Obama meritocracy, but some of the most famous names in U.S. politics have come up empty-handed in recent days.

“I don’t know how much of this you can tie to Obama, but it is a striking pattern,” said Brian Flanagan, who has studied U.S. political dynasties as associate director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

“It’s even more striking when you consider we’ve just completed the first presidential election since 1976 where there wasn’t a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket and where the winner this time had no political pedigree whatsoever,” he said.

Mr. Flanagan noted that it was not just Democrats who have failed to honor their elders. In the 2008 Republican presidential primary, Sen. John McCain of Arizona won the prize over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose father, George W. Romney, was governor of Michigan and briefly a front-runner for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.

J. David Hoppe, chief of staff for former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and now president of the Washington lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie and Associates, said Republicans are “monarchists” rather than supporters of dynasties, typically the candidate considered next in line.

In 1988, he noted, George H.W. Bush won the nomination not because he was the most dynamic candidate or the favorite of the party base but because he had been a “loyal, faithful vice president for eight years to Ronald Reagan.”

Whether a quirk or a trend, the dynastic dissing appears to have picked up momentum in recent months.

In Illinois, Mr. Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, not only did not get the Senate seat vacated by Mr. Obama, he was caught up in the embarrassing federal probe of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s suspected efforts of trying to auction off the seat to the highest bidder. Former State Attorney General Roland Burris eventually took the seat.

Mrs. Clinton at times in her presidential campaign appeared to be handicapped by her married name, with voters and commentators turned off by the prospect of two families essentially taking turns running the country for more than two decades.

The satirical Web site bushclintonforever.googlepages.com calculated last year that no American under 45 had ever voted in a presidential election without a Bush or a Clinton.

The site spun out a scenario in which the two families could stay in power at least through 2041, assuming two terms for the administrations of Presidents Hillary Rodham Clinton; Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and son and brother to presidents; Chelsea Clinton, the former first daughter; and George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s eldest son, who is a lawyer and real estate developer in Texas.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and niece of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, were considered the clear front-runners to replace Mrs. Clinton in the Senate, in part because of the high name recognition and star power both could boast.

But Ms. Kennedy withdrew her name from consideration last week just before Gov. David Paterson on Friday named Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a conservative Democrat from an upstate district, for the post.

Mrs. Gillibrand can boast some family ties. Her grandmother was a well-known Democratic Party activist in Albany, and the new senator-designate worked for a summer in the office of former Republican New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, but there are no known presidents, senators or governors in her family tree.

The political dynasty is - almost - as old as the presidency itself. President John Adams, the second chief executive, and his son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, were the first familial tandem to claim the nation’s top job.

William Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt and his fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt also made it to the White House.

Despite the loud criticisms, opinion polls do not find deep outrage among voters over political dynasties.

A January 2008 New York Times/CBS News poll, taken when Mrs. Clinton was still the clear favorite in the Democratic primary, found that more than half of those polled said they didn’t mind the Bush-Clinton duopoly on presidential power. For those who did care, 31 percent said dynasties were bad for the country compared to 13 percent who approved of them.

Mr. Flanagan noted there was no evidence that political dynasties were dying, even in the age of Obama.

“Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, Mitt Romney - all of them could very well run again for office. I suspect we probably haven’t seen the last of Caroline Kennedy, either,” he said.

Dynasties do not just target the presidency.

Three Udalls serve in Congress, all related to the late Democratic Rep. Morris K. “Mo” Udall, Arizona Democrat.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democratic colleagues Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana are all the offspring of former senators. A recent New York Times profile noted that the fathers of Mrs. Murkowski and just-elected Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska Democrat, ran against each other for Alaska’s sole House seat 39 years ago.

Freshman Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, California Republican, this year succeeded retiring 14-term Rep. Duncan Hunter, his father. Many Delaware political watchers expect state Attorney General Beau Biden to run in the 2010 special election for the Senate seat that his father, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., just relinquished after six terms.

An Obama dynasty is not out of the question, but not of immediate concern to Republicans. First lady Michelle Obama has not publicly expressed any interest in running for office on her own, and elder daughter Malia Obama, 12, is constitutionally ineligible to run for president until she turns 35 on July 4, 2033.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide