Grumbling about a Few Decades of the Bush and Clinton Families


(Senator Prescott Bush — father of President George H.W. Bush; grandfather of President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush)
Let’s just say that in 1992, you or someone you know and care about was eight years old. Although my first political memory occurred when I was between four and five years old, I think most kids start remembering presidents when they are eight — but that’s just a guess.
Given current trends in the Bush-Clinton dynastic rivalries, we could conceivably see four and a half decades of political memory spread between just two families.
If Hillary Clinton won the next presidential challenge and held the White House for two terms, that would take us quite a number of decades of Bush-Clinton all on its own. But on Sunday in the Washington Post, S.V. Date speculates in “What Would Jeb Do?” that 43’s brother and 41’s son could run in 2016, 2012, or even this next time in 2008.
Let’s chart this out:

8 years — Age at first “Political Memory” (1980-1988)
4 years — George H.W. Bush administration (1989-1992)
8 years — Bill Clinton administration (1993-2000)
8 years — George W. Bush administration (2001-2008)
8 years — Hillary Rodham Clinton administration (2009-2016) — potentially
8 years — Jeb Bush administration (2017-2024) — potentially

I think that the “dynasty” question is something that the Clinton campaign must have already prepared well in advance to answer — because people in three coffee shops I ventured into today were buzzing about this exact issue. They don’t like dynasties.
But the fact is, America has always had them — and there is a bit of contradiction in despising familial succession and then looking at what Americans have produced in their electoral history. A good book about this is Stephen Hess’s America’s Political Dynasties.
Another DC political anecdote came Thursday evening this last week when I bumped into Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL-18), a member of the House of Representatives representing Florida’s 18th District. Five minutes later, his brother and fellow U.S. House of Representatives Member Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25), joined us for a brief chat at a reception in the Cannon House Office Building Caucus Room.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart began to lobby House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA-12) to take note of the new opportunities that surround Fidel Castro’s precipitously collapsing health condition. Diaz-Balart thought that the House International Relations Committee might issue a resolution to be voted on by the full House protesting any “automatic succession” from Fidel Castro to Raul Castro, his brother.
I guess the key term here is “automatic” — and that is important, as I am opposed to “automatic succession” as well. I just don’t know if we Americans are so pure on the subject — though we do invest more in political cosmetics.
But it is interesting to note that the Diaz-Balart brothers, who I enjoyed speaking to and discussing what was happening in Latin America to the problem of an ongoing embargo of Cuba (the conversation changed quickly when I mentioned that), are sons of the former Majority Leader in the Cuban House of Representatives, Rafael Diaz-Balart — who himself was once brother-in-law to Fidel Castro.
In Japan, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the son of the late Japan Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe. One of his LDP rivals, Taro Aso, who is currently Foreign Minister is the grandson of the well-known Japan Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.
And of course, Kim Jong Il in North Korea succeeded his father Kim Il Sung in a Communist state.
China seems to frown on dynastic succession. Hu Jintao and most around him got where they are by their own wits, for the most part.
So, critiquing the Bush and Clinton dynasties is hard to do given our own political history and the realities of similar behavior elsewhere in the world — particularly in democracies.
But it’s still fun to think and argue about.

— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “Grumbling about a Few Decades of the Bush and Clinton Families

  1. NH Dem says:

    Not to mention that Tom Lantos’s daughter is Katrina Swett, who, after having lost her 2002 attempt to win back her husband’s former seat in Congress, is now an announced candidate for US Senate from NH.
    (Additional unnecessary detail: Said husband’s name is Dick Swett. Yeah. Really. And with regard to Katrina, the term “Stepford wife” might just possibly find itself turning up in local blogs with some regularity.)


  2. Scott E. says:

    Add Canada to the list, too. The last PM, Paul Martin Jr, was the son of a powerful and long-serving cabinent member, Paul Sr. And one of the Liberal Party’s hottest rising stars in Justin Trudeau, son of the late former PM, Pierre.
    I suppose in some sense it should serve as reminder that even in the Western liberal democracies, the highest offices are still a lot more open to some than to others.


  3. steve says:

    Actually, thinking about it, it seems to me it might be a good idea to bar spouses and immediate family members of a president from also running for the office.
    Look at the advantage in the electoral race the spouse or relative of a president starts out with – political celebrity, fundraising connections, other connections (vis. Hillary); and note how an ambitious family dynasty can develop and pass on networks of influence (vis. Bush).
    There can be no doubt that these kind of advantages distort what we would like to be a “level playing field”.
    What is doubtful is whether having been an immediate relative or spouse of a president should make someone a particularly good president. So why give them the advantage>
    Besides, it’s embarrassing. A nation of 300 million people, and we elect only from two families? Why? Because we are stupid and lazy?


  4. DonS says:

    Hey, am I dreaming? Where did the allusion to “celebrity” status in elections go? I’ve been revised into irrelevancy! A non-sequitur!
    Probably wont be the last time.


  5. Carroll says:

    Speaking of the Diaz-Balart’s and others of that type. There is something most Americans don’t understand about the mindset of some exiles-immigrants that come to America…not so much among your ordinary immigrants but definitely among some of those who were among the elites in their former country.
    This was brought home to me long ago in boarding school where we had two girls from Cuba whose families has transfered their money to Miami and left before Castro took total control. They were very much into the belief that the US would invade Cuba and their families would go back and resume their former elite positions and possessions. On one occassion we had a guest speaker who was formerly a doctor in Cuba who had worked in a menial job here while getting his medical certification in the US. He was a real eye opener. Unlike our two Cuban students he was not from the ruling elite in Cuba and had gone to another country to get his medical degree and gone back to Cuba to practice. He was neither approving of Batista or Castro..he had tried to be a peaceful democractic activist in Cuba but prior to the dust-up he was not in favor with either side and got out while the getting was good. One thing he said that stuck in all our minds was his description of how “americans were fools”…and he went on to describe how some immigrants who come here regard us americans as stupid for being so open and willing to extend our hands to any and everyone and secretly consider themselves superior or smarter for not being such fools as we are. According to him, the ones like Diaz-Balart realize they are not one of us, but that they need us so they can use us, and underneather this their cutural egos, the being in the position of not having the clout they use to have and being reliant on having to kiss a**** to get into positions of influence again, make them resent us instead of respect us and play us for the fools they think we are.


  6. Dennis says:

    The Bush mafia might take a good hit IF some/enough, of them were taken to the slammer for war crimes and being on the take. But given that most of congress is on the take in one form or another and most of the supported the attrack on Iraq for political purposes, the only thing that will change in two years (maybe) is that this gang will simply go back underground where they came from. But they’re not going away.
    You don’t have to be a blind conservative not to see it, just an ignorant one to deny it.


  7. Marky says:

    I don’t think anyone can seriously expect that Jeb will campaing for President, or that he has any chance of winning.
    The only good thing about W’s Presidency is that it finishes the influence of the Bush mafia on national stage.


  8. JRB says:

    Re your guess — For one, I was eight in 1992. And that year is my earliest political memory. It’s the pictures of 3 parties’ candidates with their runningmates above the chalkboard in my 3rd grade classroom.


  9. irishkg says:

    Add Saudi Arabia to the list.
    Is it coincidence or something else that the quality of leadership declines?


  10. Judah says:

    You’re forgetting that if the individual born in 1980 you’re referring to happens to be Chelsea Clinton, she’s got 8 years of eligibility come 2024 too. Which brings us to 2032.


  11. Carroll says:

    New Blood.
    No more people who represent their own dynasty or Israel or Cuba or neverland.
    Fanatics are always ambitious and work harder to gain power for their goals, Americans better get just as fanatical about their country.


  12. DonS says:

    “Celebrity”. Steve, you hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t agree more.
    And so we get what we deserve; a “Price is Right” government, with about as much political depth as a second tier sitcom.
    Policiy discussions are fine, although about useless. I keep forgetting; they’re ALL politicians, and have therefore left most of their integrity and a good portion of their brains at the door.


  13. Ben Rosengart says:

    Good point about FDR. Of course, he didn’t exactly wreck the country (though the Bushes might feel otherwise).


  14. Steve Clemons says:

    Tom — I can buy most of what you say here about the Clinton contrast to the Bush family. But what drives more and more successful candidacies in this country is “celebrity” — and the fact is that George W. Bush would not have been President or even considered had he not had the family name recognition. With Hillary — while I respect her greatly — I think that she too would not be in front of us without the name recognition of her partnership with President Clinton. I do see that you feel that the earlier eight years of President Clinton reflected a partnership and that it’s not yet a lineal dynasty. Point accepted. But it’s still the same family in my book — and given your benchmarks, we should perhaps compare her potential win to that of FDR’s four terms…
    just food for thought — but thanks for making the distinction,
    steve clemons


  15. tom says:

    an apple and an orange are being compared here.
    The Bushes are indeed a dynastic family. Generation 1 was a relatively undistinguished Senator, Generation 2 was middling President and Generation 3 is in the running for worst President in our history.
    The Clintons are not a dynasty, but a couple and a political partnership who essentially share a record and an experience. By the way, the male partner was a successful President by any measure, and the female partner shared in that work and success. She has gone on to have a career on her own in the Senate, one in which her partner is also sharing. When Chelsea announces her candidacy, it is OK to start talking about the Clinton dynasty.
    The reason why this is important is the “dynasty meme” tends to transfer the Bushes unpopularity to the Clintons by asserting that they are essentially alike, when in fact, they are very different, in background, class position, ideology, regional origin, and political party.


  16. Steve Clemons says:

    Parenthetical — lol. Yes, I worry about that too!! Started early today — too many meetings, too much coffee…but glad you are watching out for me.
    As ever,
    Steve Clemons


  17. Marcia says:

    “So, critiquing the Bush and Clinton dynasties is hard to do given our own political history and the realities of similar behavior elsewhere in the world — particularly in democraciese”
    There are many arguments to the contrary. The fact that something exists here or elsewhere is not a reason to justify its existance. It certainly cannot be considered a judgement of value. It may be merely the longing for parental figures.
    Given the decrepitude of our democracy and the fact that for most of the last thirty years the WH has been occupied by a Bush or Clinton it does not seem to speak in favor of continuing down this road.
    That birth, relations and fortunes play a significent role in the transmission of power was one of the characteristics our Constitution was to permit us to avoid, our ancestors having suffered under the British joug.
    If we are to return to that mode, is it really worth it? The problem now is that there is no New World to go to.
    The economic straight jacket designed by the ruling gentry and being filled by an unwilling population is stripping away the fruit of endless battles for a more humain world.
    PS: I just listened to the Ian Masters program which is very interesting.


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