Clinton v Bush, again: is US democracy a family affair?

Clinton v Bush, again: is US democracy a family affair?

WASHINGTON - Jeb Bush has announced he will run for president, and Hillary Clinton is expected to do the same soon. In 2016, the race to the White House could be a family affair.

This kind of thing is nothing new in the United States. Examples abound of political dynasties, particularly in Congress.

The Kennedy clan, the most famous of all of them, has had myriad books written about it.

But if the upcoming race sees a win by either the wife of former president Bill Clinton or the brother of George W. Bush and son of George Bush Sr., American democracy would write a new chapter.

Indeed, if either wins office, it would mean that since 1989 two families will have held executive power in America for 24 years out of 32, with Barack Obama as the only interruption.

Of course the road to the election on November 8, 2016 is a long one and much remains to be decided.

While Clinton, 67, is a favourite among Democrats, a Republican nomination for Bush is no done deal.

But the debate is out there.

Questioned in early July, Clinton, who lived in the White House from 1993 to 2001, denied that the persistence of these two surnames would be a bad sign for US democracy.

"We had two Roosevelts. We had two Adams. It may be that certain families just have a sense of commitment or even a predisposition to want to be in politics," Clinton said.

John Quincy Adams, the sixth US president (1825-1829) was the son of John Adams, the second, who served from 1797 to 1801 and succeeded George Washington.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) were distant cousins.

But Clinton, a former secretary of state, said having a famous last name is no guarantee of political success.

"I ran for president, as you remember. I lost to somebody named Barack Obama, so I don't think there is any guarantee in American politics," said Clinton, who ran in the 2008 primary elections.

"Our system is open to everyone. It is not a monarchy in which I wake up in the morning and abdicate in favour of my son," she added.

- Michelle Obama not tempted -

But there is no unanimity on this point.

Rob Goodman, a political science researcher at Columbia University in New York, said a succession of rule by one of the other family would be "bad news."

The power of these two political dynasties, which draw strength from their names but also a robust network of donors, clashes with "democratic flexibility, the idea that our next generation of leaders could potentially come from anywhere," Goodman said.

"The fact is that dynasties generally do well in politics because people love a good story," Goodman said.

"But politics is not just about fascinating stories. It's about social movements and ordinary people and negotiations between interests and things that are a lot more difficult to sum up in a media friendly way but are just as important to democracy," he said.

On Tuesday in Washington, lawmakers were divided on the advantages and limitations of having a famous last name in a quest for the nation's highest office.

"I can't see the country electing another Bush," said Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

"There's still hard feelings about George W. So you start out with a negative because you've got the wrong last name. If he didn't have that last name, he'd be a pretty good candidate," Coburn told the Wall Street Journal.

George H.W. Bush, the son of a senator, served only one term.

Beaten by Bill Clinton in 1992, he saw his eldest son take over eight years later.

Bush Sr.'s wife Barbara said a few months ago it was ridiculous that a major country like the United States could not find more than two or three families to produce presidential candidates.

There is only one thing for sure as the long road to 2016 gets under way: the Obama family should stay out of the debate.

Despite persistent speculation in the US media, Obama's wife Michelle has said repeatedly that she is not tempted by the Oval Office.

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