Let’s take a quick quiz. What year did the New York Times run the following headline: “Clinton and Bush Compete to Be Champion of Change”—2015 or 1992? Would it surprise you to learn that the answer is 1992?
Twenty-three years ago the New York Times ran this headline during the heated presidential race that featured the first generation of Clintons and Bushes with White House ambitions. In 2015, the American public is watching a Clinton’s fourth and Bush’s fifth time seeking the Presidency of the United States. With the release of a video in April, Hillary Rodham Clinton began her quest to win the Democratic nomination for 2016. While John Ellis “Jeb” Bush hasn’t formally announced his candidacy for 2016, he released his own video online ahead of Hillary’s and is widely expected to be the GOP establishment favorite.
It could be argued that dynastic presidencies of this type make America stronger. They show that the American people stand behind these families to lead our nation in times of peace, as was true for President Bill Clinton and war, as was true for President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush. However, applauding the same two families trading the White House back and forth over the past three decades would ignore the history of the founding of our country and set a principle that America will allow itself to be ruled by a well financed aristocracy.
If Hillary and Jeb were to win their respective nominations, it would only confirm the oligarchy that the United States is quickly becoming. Even worse, it creates a ruling aristocracy, the likes of which our founding fathers rejected 250 years ago. As a democratic republic, we are supposed to have free elections where the will of the people reigns supreme. These dynastic candidates severely limit our ability to choose. With a possible Bush v. Clinton 2016 race, America will have the same two families ruling over the country for over three decades, save for the anomaly of one outsider.
Jeb Bush benefits from his father’s and brother’s donor bases, backers from his time as governor of Florida, not to mention his many high-profile Wall Street contacts. Hillary Clinton benefits from her husband’s legacy, which propelled her into the Senate in 2000, prompted a 2008 failed presidential bid, and led to a successful tenure as Secretary of State.
Would Hillary and Jeb be successful elected officials if not for their family legacies? Do Hillary’s and Jeb’s independent political careers result from those who came before them? Would Hillary Rodham and John Ellis be household names if President Bill Clinton and Presidents Bush had not occupied the Oval Office before them?
Hillary Rodham is an impressive woman who had accumulated a diverse resume before she became the first lady. However, before her time in the White House, she had devoted her life to a career as a lawyer, not a politician. The conditions under which Hillary won her first election as a New York Senator in 2000 would not have happened without her husband in the White House. President Bill Clinton was riding on a 61 percent approval rating his final year in office, which helped Hillary win with 55 percent of the vote in a state to which she had previously minimal connections. This is not to say Hillary was unqualified for the position. She did have twenty years of public service to her credit, but none of that work came from serving in an elected office. It was the popularity of President Clinton that helped to kickstart her career in elected politics.
John Ellis’s path was always shaped by his father’s political ambitions. Indeed, his father was a congressional representative by the time Jeb was thirteen. President George H. W. Bush had a prominent political career and became a household name when he ran as the vice presidential candidate under President Reagan. Jeb worked as a volunteer on that successful campaign, after which he moved his family to Florida where his own political career would begin. It seems no accident that Jeb ended up as the Chairman of the Dade County Republican party. Florida is a key swing state, and Dade county plays a prominent role in the fate of the state’s local and national elections. From there, Jeb held a number of important political positions in Florida, culminating in a two-term governorship. While Jeb has been qualified for his subsequent political positions, his appointment to the initial chairmanship that kickstarted his own career would not have happened had George H. W. Bush not held the Vice Presidency in the 1980s.
Hillary and Jeb are both highly intelligent, well educated, and on their way to prosperous careers in a field outside of elected politics. But, it seems unlikely that either would have chosen to run or made successful bids for elected office had their respective dynasty not come before them, let alone have the political capital and national name recognition to become early frontrunners for 2016.
While their familial connections undoubtedly provide lucrative political and financial benefits, both Jeb and Hillary come with the baggage from dynastic presidencies of the last three decades. They are both (most likely) going to pursue their respective party’s nomination and are likely to receive it. A Bush vs. Clinton rematch of 1992 isn’t just bad because it sets dynastic precedent. It’s bad for this country because neither candidate is exciting; neither candidate is new, innovative, or unique.
The distinct disadvantage of a dynastic candidate is the aura of inevitability that follows them. Hillary has been expected to run again since her 2008 loss to then Senator Obama in the democratic primary. Rumors have been swirling about Jeb Bush’s run for the White House since early last year. Additionally, dynastic candidates give off the impression that they have been around forever. They are associated with the career politicians in the Beltway, who are all complicit in the creating the current partisan dysfunction in Washington. As Governor, Jeb Bush had little to do with this, but he is still associated with the career politicians and the negative connotations that come with it. Hillary has been intimately involved in the politics of Washington as First Lady and her subsequent roles as senator and Secretary of State.
Regardless of political leaning, this country needs politicians who can excite voters about the issues; after all, everyone has a say as long as they take to the polls. Neither Hillary nor Jeb are Obama-esque candidates that energize the American people toward a brighter future. Granted, the precedent that President Obama set is a difficult act to follow. But, we should hold our elected officials to such a high standard, especially those who intend to lead our country as commander-in-chief. Presidential nominees should be leaders intent on change for the better, not the jaded and tired Beltway insiders, nor the dynastic candidates who do not bring anything new to the table. If Hillary and Jeb win their respective nominations, the 2016 race is already lost to dynastic and aristocratic politics, the exact politics that stifle innovation and inspiration.