Written by Aditi Shankar
The United States of America was established in an act of rebellion against the tyrannical authority of the British monarchy. Yet, in recent years, “aristocratic” families seem to have dominated the American political system.
Alexander Hamilton, notable Founding Father and creator of the first US national bank, wrote in Federalist #69:
“That magistrate is to be elected for four years; and is to be re-eligible as often as the people of the United States shall think him worthy of their confidence. In these circumstances there is a total dissimilitude between him and a king of Great Britain, who is an hereditary monarch, possessing the crown as a patrimony descendible to his heirs forever.” Hamilton contrasts the positions of the American president and the British king in his influential and substantive essay.
While the existence of political families may arguably defy some core values of the country – albeit not explicit in the Constitution – these dynasties may be pragmatic in today’s political situation. Members of elite political families gain early exposure to the inner-workings of government. Utilizing connections could be “unfair” but may be necessary for optimal efficiency.
Across generations, the Bush family includes two senators, one Supreme Court justice, two governors, and two presidents (and vice president). In The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, Peter Schweizer claims that the Bushes are the “most successful political dynasty in American history.” Jeb Bush, George H.W. Bush’s son, plans on running in the 2016 presidential election and extending the Bush family rule past his older brother, George W. Bush. Similar to the Kennedy family, the Bush family also shares advisors, and thus policy; Philip Blum found that “19 of the 21 people on [Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team] worked in the administrations of his father or brother” (Washington Post).
Clinton too, is a household name. Ascending in power after meeting at Yale Law School, the Bill and Hillary duo earned spots in the White House by 1992. The couple faced much scrutiny from many citizens after suffering through (and eventually surviving) a sex scandal while in office. After the Bill Clinton presidency, their service continued. Hillary Clinton also directed health policy reform alongside chief advisor Ira Magaziner in the 1990s. After an unsuccessful presidential run in 2008, Hillary became Secretary of State under President Obama.
Members of each political dynasty profit in some way from the power of their ancestors. As Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton may face off in 2016, the value and fairness of political dynasties are called into question. Nancy Benac of the Associated Press finds that “a famous name can bring a candidate instant brand recognition…[but could also carry] unsavory associations and the risk of a fatigue factor.” The dominance of the Bush and Clinton families may actually be “symbols of a corrupt system and a permanent governing class,” as Jeff Cohen of RootsAction group puts it (Associated Press). David Gergen, former presidential advisor and CNN correspondent, comments that because both candidates are reasonably qualified, the brand-name recognition may not actually be a bad thing (Business Insider). Still, “background could hurt both Bush and Clinton” (Business Insider).
With continued involvement from both Bush and Clinton families, it will be interesting to see what the future of these modern-day monarchies has in store.