George H.W. vs. Bill was Bush/Clinton I. Jeb vs. Hillary could be Bush/Clinton II. And if we’re very lucky, George P. will win his race for Texas land commissioner and Chelsea will ease into public service with a Senate seat in New York or something and we’ll be on track for Bush/Clinton III circa 2032.
Two points about this. One: It’s proof of how insatiable the media’s appetite for dynastic politics is (especially Democratic dynasties) that this is biggish news today even though she said the same thing six months ago. You get the feeling that Chelsea could go on making rote “maybe someday” statements every year for the next quarter-century and the media will cover every last one with the same “is she finally ready?” tone of breathless inevitability. That’s what it means to be a golden-child scion of the House of Clinton. If you doubt it, remember how insane the coverage was of Caroline Kennedy possibly being appointed to fill Hillary’s vacant Senate seat in 2008. (Hillary’s seat used to be RFK’s seat so Caroline’s appointment would have brought two dynastic storylines together.) Forty-five years after JFK’s death, despite the fact that she had never sought office before, the possibility that America might be gifted with Senator Caroline was the biggest story in politics. Instead, she’s likely to end up as our next ambassador to Japan even though East Asia is the hottest geopolitical spot on the planet right now and she has no diplomatic experience. There’s no job so difficult or delicate that the right pedigree can’t qualify you for it. In fact, the best reminder of that is the interview below: Chelsea normally shies away from TV chitchat but NBC is of course her employer, and was willing to put her on in primetime over reporters who’d spent years working for a shot like that. They wanted access to the Clintons and were willing to give her a “journalism” job to get it. No talent required.
Two: It feels odd claiming that America’s dynastic tendencies are getting worse when two of the first six presidents were father and son, but there’s no way to avoid that feeling given the proliferation of ambitious Bushes and Clintons on top of the endless proliferation of ambitious Kennedys. Is it getting worse, political historians, or is this one of those eternal laments where every generation sees recent deterioration in what’s actually an evergreen problem? (The classic example is hand-wringing about negative ads even though the Founding Fathers were often vicious in their own campaigns.) I can see the arguments both ways. On the one hand, how can dynastic politics be getting worse when Obama defeated the Clinton machine and then surfed on anti-Bush sentiment to become the first black president? On the other hand, what if we end up with Jeb versus Hillary in 2016? And what if Michelle Obama eventually runs for something? You would think, in an age of ubiquitous media, it’d be easier for a candidate to compete with, and defeat, dynasties by building a “brand” quickly. (Again, see Obama.) But maybe Obama’s a singular phenomenon; maybe inescapable media actually makes things easier for dynasties most of the time by providing them with more avenues to reach voters and opportunities to build a brand that’s more complex than what politicians of earlier generations could achieve. (See, e.g., the non-news about Chelsea today. Note too that the executive director of the new pro-Hillary PAC refers to her explicitly as a “brand.”) I’m tempted to say that Ross Douthat was right yesterday that the insularity and incestuousness of America’s elite has also gotten worse, which means an easier path for children of political privilege to navigate the money and relationships needed to grasp power, but I have no number for you on that. Politics has always been a rich/famous man’s game, by and large; whether it’s more of one today than in the last few centuries is impossible to know without a deeper dive into the data.