“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
So sang Roger Daltry in The Who’s classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which decried the futility of political change. The USA seems to be taking this sentiment a bit too literally as the 2016 election cycle approaches: Two of the presidential front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, hail from powerful families that have dominated the political landscape since the 1980s.
Clinton is, according to most polls, the clear favorite to win the Democratic nomination. This apparent inevitability was the subject of a New Yorker cartoon, in which Hillary was depicted as a giant surrounded by diminutive political adversaries. Bush enjoys no such frontrunner status, but polls have him within the top tier of Republican candidates. Former President George W. Bush praised his brother’s leadership skills in a recent interview, and said that he was “all in” if Jeb were to run. This all adds up to a very real possibility that our next president will be named Clinton or Bush.
That is a very bad thing.
What would it mean if Hillary or Jeb were to win the White House? In the case of a two-term presidency, it would mean 44 years of nearly uninterrupted Bush-Clinton political hegemony. George H. W. Bush became Vice President in 1981. Since then, a Bush or a Clinton was President or Vice President until 2008. In the past few years, between Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, George P. Bush’s high-profile entry into the conservative political scene and the former Presidents’ elder statesman roles, the families have continued to exert disproportionate influence. That kind of stranglehold on power is usually only seen in countries with less stable (or nonexistent) democracies, like India and the Philippines.
Political dynasties should make Americans uncomfortable because they undermine the idea that this country is a meritocracy. Children are often told when they are young that, with hard work and some luck, they could run the country some day. At a certain point, even a child has to begin questioning that sentiment. There are more than 300 million people in America. Why are all the leaders coming from the same two families? A recent op-ed, with tongue only partly in-cheek, took the view that the United States is actually a monarchy: “There’s the King, the Queen, and the peasants. Only a few have access to the political pot of gold. Its all in the name.”
The Clinton and Bush camps are both trying to combat the notion that their political capital has been anything less than fairly earned. George W. Bush, in reference to Jeb’s potential candidacy, declared: “I think you have to earn your way into politics. I don’t think anything is ever given to you.” The idea that Jeb Bush has had nothing handed to him throughout his political ascendancy is laughable. He was educated at Phillips Academy, an elite boarding school with hundreds of famous alumni. His earliest political experience was working on one of his father’s campaigns. Perhaps most importantly, Jeb’s status as a Bush gave him the kind of name recognition which political observers recognize as crucial to winning campaigns.
The notion that Hillary Clinton has earned her way in politics holds more water. Her career prior to being First Lady is littered with impressive accomplishments: She was president of the Wellesley Young Republicans, graduated from Yale Law School, was a member of the impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate Scandal and worked as a lawyer in Little Rock, Arkansas.
However, it was Hillary’s tenure as First Lady that launched her political career and made her a household name. Her work on the 1993 health care initiative, which allowed her to showcase her leadership skills and legislative acumen, came about because she was appointed to the position by the sitting President, whose name was also Clinton. Add to that the connections, fundraising network and name recognition that Bill Clinton’s presidency made possible, and it becomes clear that Hillary Clinton’s campaign momentum is at least partially derived from the political dynasty to which she belongs.
Some pundits will say that it does not matter if presidential candidates are part of a dynasty as long as they are the most qualified for the job. This argument is nonsense. Familial control of the American government is damaging to our democracy, no matter how accomplished or talented the members of those families are. By allowing ourselves to be ruled by so few elites, we undermine the notion that the American government is of the people, by the people and for the people. With trust in the government at an all time low, now is not the time to elect the same old names.
Support a new candidate in 2016. Let’s not get fooled again.