‘Old guard must leave to make room for the new’
The modern version of the scions of the Hatfields and the McCoys — or the Capulets and the Montagues — have announced their candidacies for president. The dynastic offspring – Hillary for the Clintons and Jeb for the Bushes – have formally jumped into the ring.
They are an odd pair, but a logical one. Each ensures the other against the charge of dynastic succession. Each one is too old to demand younger leadership. Each dynastic house is steeped in wealth – the one in old money laundered by time and the other in the fruits of recent hustle, conflicts of interest and corruption.
Each candidate’s wealth makes it harder for the other to attack them as a member of the elite. And each candidate is so mired in foreign money that neither can call the other out on that score. Bush cannot criticize the Clinton Foundation without answering for his own performance on multi-national, off-shore boards of directors. He can’t attack Hillary’s and Bill’s looting of Haiti without answering why his brother appointed Bill to the job and why his father, co-chair of the effort, did not stop the plundering.
It is not that either the House of Clinton or the House of Bush was ever that popular. This is not a re-enactment of John Quincy Adams following his revered father into office or even of Franklin Roosevelt trading off his popular cousin Theodore’s illustrious name.
Bill Clinton was, after all, impeached as president. His ratings early in his term were so dismal that he lost control of Congress. He left office with a high job approval but an abysmal personal favorable rating, his duplicity and predatory conduct on display for all to see.
Jeb, the grandnephew of Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush, and the brother of President George W. Bush comes from a distinguished pedigree but not an especially popular one. His father failed to win a second term and his brother left office with a 34 percent job approval rating, having led us to war by mistake and having helped to create one of the worst economies in memory.
For each candidate, nepotism has become a way of life.
Hillary, having failed the D.C. bar, finally landed a job at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock after her husband became state attorney general. She made partner when he became governor. She got power over health care when he was elected president and she defended him against (accurate) charges of an affair with Jennifer Flowers. She won her Senate seat with huge help from the White House right after she stood by him again in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Her husband got her the Democratic nomination without a primary fight in a blue state in which she had never lived or even pretended to be from.
Jeb ran for governor of Florida on his father’s name in 1994. But, having only recently been defeated for re-election, President Bush’s name had not yet acquired sufficient luster to float his son’s candidacy. By 1998, against the backdrop of Bill Clinton’s disgraceful personal conduct, Jeb’s father looked pretty good in retrospect and that was enough to elect his son governor of Florida.
But here, Jeb and Hillary part company. While Hillary did poorly as secretary of state, Jeb turned in a fine performance as governor, making a quantum difference in the state’s educational system.
But we are driven to ask: Has our republic descended to the level where this is the best we can come up with?
The Republican bench is teeming with talent. Scott Walker has shown all of America how to tame public employee unions and reduce their strangle hold on education. Ted Cruz upended the entrenched Texas Republican oligarchy in a courageous primary battle and has gone on to lead the national conservative forces in the Senate. Mike Huckabee showed how a Christian conservative can govern a state combining Republican values with spiritually based compassion.
If the Democratic Party were free from Clinton domination, important alternatives could emerge. Elizabeth Warren has recruited followers from the left and the right in her prophetic battle against predatory banking. Governors like Andrew Cuomo and Patrick Deval and senators like Sherrod Brown, Debbie Stabenow, Amy Klobucher and Bob Casey patiently await their turn, postponing their ambition until the Clintons have finally left the stage.
Together, these families dominated our politics in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and, now in 2016. Neither their past record nor their current popularity warrants such dominance.
Our country is capable of better, but the old guard must leave to make room for the new.
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