A few years ago, I found myself sitting on an airplane next to a gentleman from Egypt. Talk quickly turned to the upheaval in his country, where the so-called Arab Spring was in full bloom.
“We want a real democracy,” he told me, “not like yours.” When I pressed him to elaborate, he shot back with a question of his own. “How many times have you voted,” he asked, “when someone named Bush or Clinton wasn’t running?”
The answer, I sheepishly admitted, was once: in 2008. Before that, going back to 1980, the first year I cast a ballot, every single presidential ticket featured someone from one of those two families.
That’s not good for our image overseas, or for our democracy at home. We tell the world that we’re a land of opportunity, where anyone can grow up to be the president. Then we limit ourselves to a handful of political dynasties.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk of another Clinton versus Bush contest. With her huge fundraising apparatus and name recognition, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the hands-down Democratic frontrunner for 2016. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush seems to be laying the groundwork to capture the GOP nomination.
Of course, neither Clinton nor Bush has announced any such plan. But the “super PAC” Ready for Hillary has already raised $4 million simply to “encourage” her to run. And Bush is canvassing the country like a presidential candidate, visiting three states over the next few weeks to campaign for fellow Republicans.
Of course, they’re hardly the first American politicians to exploit family connections. Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was the son of our second one; Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather William spent a very brief time in the White House half a century earlier; Franklin D. Roosevelt was preceded by Theodore, his distant cousin.