Our Two Party Family System

by Dish Staff

Former US President George H.W. Bush(2nd

Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that, “with exception of 2012, you’d have to be 38 or older to have lived thru an election with no Bush or Clinton running for prez.” Aaron Blake discovers that it’s even worse than that:

[G]oing back a full half-century – i.e. to 1964 – there have been only three elections (midterm or presidential) in which a Bush or a Clinton hasn’t been on the ballot somewhere for something.

Stretching back to George H.W. Bush’s first bid for U.S. Senate in 1964 (he lost), that’s 23 out of 26 elections. The only exceptions are 1972, 2010 and 2012. That most recent two-election drought was broken when George P. Bush – Jeb Bush’s son – ran for Texas land commissioner this year (he won).

Greenwald believes that a Clinton-Bush match-up would illustrate “the virtually complete merger between political and economic power, of the fundamentally oligarchical framework that drives American political life”:

If this happens, the 2016 election would vividly underscore how the American political class functions: by dynasty, plutocracy, fundamental alignment of interests masquerading as deep ideological divisions, and political power translating into vast private wealth and back again. The educative value would be undeniable: somewhat like how the torture report did, it would rub everyone’s noses in exactly those truths they are most eager to avoid acknowledging.

Even Douthat, who isn’t against political dynasties in principle, has misgivings about a Clinton-Bush race:

[T]here really would be something historically unusual about having the same two families alternate in the American presidency for, potentially, twenty-eight out of thirty-six years. The closest analogue would be the Roosevelts, Teddy and Franklin, who served for about twenty out of the 20th century’s first forty-five years, and they were related in a much looser way, rather than being part of the same marriage or nuclear family. In the main, the American presidency has resisted dynastic control, and the dynasts have tended to be among the less-enduring of chief executives: The Adamses were both one-termers, likewise the Harrisons (a one-monther, in William Henry’s case!), and for all their fame the Kennedys only occupied the Oval Office for the three short years of J.F.K.’s not-entirely-brilliant presidency. And they have also tended to be well-spaced: Twenty-five years from Adams to Adams, more than fifty years between the Harrisons, twenty-four between T.R. and F.D.R.

So it’s hard not to look at Bush-Clinton dominance, however shaped by randomness, as distinctive to our era, and therefore probably somehow connected to stratification and elite consolidation and other non-ideal patterns in American life generally. At the very least, it’s striking how many non-pedigreed men — Truman, Ike, Nixon, Carter, Reagan — won the White House during the golden years of the American middle class, compared to the mix of family ties and Ivy League resumes (dynasty woven into meritocracy, as it inevitably is) that has defined the office’s leading aspirants in recent decades.

Update from a reader:

Oh, please. Conflating the Clintons and the Bushes is ignorant and offensive. The Bushes are on their fourth generation of power and their third presidency. The Clintons are a married couple. Hilary did not inherit anything, nor did Bill. A Washington power couple is not a dynasty. Put these two families in the same sentence when Chelsea’s granddaughter is running.

(Photo: Former US President George H.W. Bush greets his former Vice President Dan Quayle as former First Lady Barbara Bush stands by after inaugural ceremonies at the US Capitol on January 20, 2005. Also pictured are Florida Governor Jeb Bush his wife Columba and former President Bill Clinton and his wife Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY. By Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)