Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Because I am always three to six (3-6) months behind in reading the New Yorker, it took me till the eve of the Primary Election to find this article by Hendrik Hertzberg on the dangers/weirdness of political dynasties. I've been feeling squeamish all along about Hillary Clinton running (let alone winning) for a reason that sounds sort of hum drum compared to the "real" issues (war, peace, guns, choice, taxes, etc): it's kind of eerie, disconcerting, and downright scary at times to me to think of the possibility of having a Bush, a Clinton, a Bush, and then another Clinton in office. Hertzberg says it better:

Shortly after Hillary Rodham Clinton declared her candidacy for President last winter, Roger Cohen, writing in the International Herald Tribune, declared that “a delicate problem confronts her that few people are talking about: almost two decades of dynastic domination of American politics.” Well, they’re talking about it now. “Forty per cent of Americans have never lived when there wasn’t a Bush or a Clinton in the White House,”

That stat took me awhile to figure out: There are people younger than me who have never known a time when a Bush or a Clinton wasn't in charge. This is starting to feel a lot like a monarchy and a lot less like an electoral democracy... Then I thought, wait, I haven't known this time either. I was born in the very last months of Carter, and George Bush the First was Reagan's VP. Color me dynastic... Hertzberg goes on to discuss various other political dynasties in the illustrious history of this country. From the very beginning, it seems, though "Ruling families are not supposed to be a big part of the picture in our democratic republic, whose very Constitution states firmly, 'No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States,'" the US has had trouble letting sons go their own way: If daddy is in politics, the son probably should be, too.

Hertzberg has some interesting things to say about women in political power. Of course, since I'm way behind on reading this article, Bhutto is dead, and I'm not sure what to make of that in terms of the current election here.

In most cases, the tie has been broken by death. In South Asia, which seems to lead the world in female national leaders, violent death is invariably a factor. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a total of four female heads of state have come to power in the wake of male relatives’ assassination; in India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, was herself assassinated, as was her son and successor, Rajiv. (Her daughter-in-law, Sonia, now heads the ruling Congress Party.) Burma’s imprisoned opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the daughter of the assassinated independence leader Aung San. And the father of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s two-time and perhaps future Prime Minister, was a Prime Minister whose life ended at the gallows; her return to Karachi last week was marked by a suicide-bomber attack that claimed more than a hundred lives.

Hertzberg thinks that (H) Clinton is a different kind of dynasty. She is not just the "wife of" but as much, if not more, a political figure in her own right. Her only problem is Bush:

There’s a downside. The downside’s name is Bush. If, as the voters in 2000 wished, Al Gore, son of Senator Albert Gore, Sr., had been granted the White House, things might be a bit easier—not just for Hillary Clinton but also for her main Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama. George W. Bush has been as poor an advertisement for “inexperience” as for dynasticism. It’s not fair, of course. Bush’s failure to learn much of anything for the past six years suggests a deficit of character, not of experience; his unwillingness to employ his father’s skills and advice on behalf of the nation shows a disrespectful disregard for a dynast’s biggest advantage. He has given both freshness and family a bad name.

I guess I think that there's more problems with dynasticism in the form of Clinton (the female) than just George Bush the Second (although he is a large problem). I'm far from a Constitutional literalist, but there's something to the idea of democracy vs. monarchy, and something that bugs me about the same powerful rich elite being in power over and over and over, for decades on end. I'd like to live in a time where there was no Bush or Clinton in office.