Why we don’t need political dynasties

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     Former Presidents George H. W. Bush, right, and George W. Bush, left. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo, file)

    Former Presidents George H. W. Bush, right, and George W. Bush, left. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo, file)

    We tell the world that we’re a land of opportunity, where anyone can grow up to be the president. Then we limit ourselves to a handful of political dynasties, which pass the baton back and forth.

    A few years ago, I found myself sitting on an airplane next to a gentleman from Egypt. Talk quickly turned to the upheaval in his country, where the so-called Arab Spring was in full bloom.

    “We want a real democracy,” he told me, “not like yours.” When I pressed him to elaborate, he shot back with a question of his own. “How many times have you voted,” he asked, “when someone named ‘Bush’ or ‘Clinton’ wasn’t running?”

     

    The answer, I sheepishly admitted, was once: in 2008. Before that—and going back to 1980, the first year I cast a ballot—every single presidential ticket featured someone from one of those two families.

    That’s not good for our image overseas, or for our democracy at home. We tell the world that we’re a land of opportunity, where anyone can grow up to be the president. Then we limit ourselves to a handful of political dynasties, which pass the baton back and forth.

    And next time around, they might be battling each other. With her huge fund-raising apparatus and name recognition, Hillary Clinton is the hands-down Democratic frontrunner for 2016. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush seems to be laying the groundwork to capture the GOP nomination.

    Of course, neither Clinton nor Bush has announced any such ambition. But a super PAC called “Ready for Hillary” has already raised $4 million simply to “encourage” her to run. And Bush is canvassing the country like a presidential candidate, scheduling visits to three states over the next few weeks to campaign for fellow Republicans seeking election in the fall.

    Of course, they’re hardly the first American politicians to exploit family connections. Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was the son of our second one; Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather William  spent a few short months in the White House, a half-century earlier; Franklin Roosevelt was preceded by Theodore, his distant cousin.

    More recently, consider New York’s Governors Cuomo (Mario and Andrew) or the Al Gores, Sr. and Jr., who both served as Senators from Tennessee. And let’s not forget the Kennedys, who made no bones about their own dynastic ambitions.

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