It isn’t 2016 yet, but I am already sick to death of all of the claims that Americans do not like political dynasties. We have heard a fair amount of that talk in light of Hillary Clinton’s very likely candidacy for the presidency, and now that Jeb Bush appears to be getting ready to run for president as well, we are hearing even more such talk. The problem is that the talk in question is absurd.
Americans may pretend to dislike political dynasties, but in fact, efforts to perpetrate such dynasties have been remarkably successful throughout American history. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the first father and son team to make it to the presidency. William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison were the first grandfather and grandson team to do so. Theodore Roosevelt’s two terms in the White House undoubtedly helped distant cousin Franklin get there as well. The Kennedys did just fine; one brother made it to the White House and would probably have won a second term were it not for his assassination. Another brother made use of dynastic connections to become the senator from New York–after having served as attorney general, of course–and may very well have won the presidency himself were it not for the fact that he got assassinated too. A third brother made use of dynastic connections to become the senator from Massachusetts, a post which he held until his death, and while his run for the presidency was an abject failure, that was likely because it is next to impossible to challenge a sitting president of one’s own party for the presidential nomination of that party. And then, of course, there is the Bush family, which saw the Adamses and is trying to raise them, while the Clintons try to become the first husband and wife team to create a presidential dynasty–after Hillary Clinton parlayed dynastic connections to become the senator from New York and secretary of state.
This history alone should make it abundantly clear that Americans like dynasties just fine. To be sure, in Hillary Clinton’s first run for the presidency, she was a tremendously bad candidate. But her failure had little to nothing to do with any qualms about dynasties and just about everything to do with the fact that Hillary Clinton ran a lousy campaign and was lousy on the campaign trail. Right now, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, and while that was also true in 2008, if Clinton fails to capture the nomination, or fails to win the general election in 2016, it will likely be due to her own failings as a candidate, and due to the failings of her campaign, not due to any concerns regarding dynastic succession. We can, of course, say the same thing about Jeb Bush and his likely candidacy for the presidency.
Perhaps even more importantly, there is no reason whatsoever why we should disqualify a presidential candidate because of dynastic concerns. It makes no sense to tell someone that just because a family member of his or hers was president, he or she cannot be president as well. Such a rationale is inequitable, and it actually overlooks unique qualifications that dynastic presidential candidates may bring to the table. Hillary Clinton may not be my cup of tea, but the fact of the matter is that she is not unfamiliar with presidential power, she knows where the political bodies are buried, and she can always rely on a former president for advice and assistance. Ditto for Jeb Bush. Candidates who are unfamiliar with the presidency as an institution, with life in the White House, and with the way in which politics is played at the highest levels, cannot boast similar qualifications.
So we really should stop claiming that Americans dislike political dynasties and we should also stop claiming that dynastic candidates should somehow be disqualified from seeking the presidency. Both claims are illogical (to say the least), and as to the second claim, if you don’t like a particular presidential candidate, you can vote against that candidate. Whether that candidate is or is not part of a potential political dynasty should be, at best, a secondary question in determining whether he or she has your vote.