Amy Fried wrote a very good article on something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, Three Stark, Politically Critical Dynastic Differences Between Jeb and Hillary. Let me give you an overview of it, and then I’ll add my own take, because I think there is a much more profound difference than she talks about.
In a sense, all three of Fried’s differences could be summed up thusly, “Hillary is a far better politician than Jeb” — because Americans are particularly reticent to blame a person for the sins of a loved one. But she was right to break this all out. She started with something pretty obvious, “Bill Clinton is seen favorably. George W Bush is seen unfavorably.” It’s true: Americans don’t mind power families if, you know, they like the power family. Bush Sr isn’t terribly revered and Bush Jr is hated. So Jeb Bush gets nothing positive from his association and Hillary Clinton does.
The second difference is really just the first difference, “The Clinton economic record is far better than the Bush economic record.” That’s why people like Clinton. If the economy had boomed under Bush, they would all forgive his many other problems. But it didn’t. As Fried noted, even if you forget the bursting of the housing bubble, the unemployment rate under Bush started at 4.2% and went up to 6.3%. For Clinton, it was the opposite: from 7.3% down to 4.2%. Are these fair ways of judging a president? No! But they are how people do judge presidents. And Bush’s economic policies were bad regardless.
The third difference is the heart of the matter:
Even with George W Bush’s policies being unpopular in pretty much every area, Jeb Bush doesn’t see the need push against them. Hillary Clinton is showing no hesitation is pushing back against Bill Clinton’s unpopular policies. I just wish she would push back against his bad policies that aren’t particularly unpopular, but that is certainly asking too much. My hope is just that if she becomes president, she will try to do some minor fixes to the way that her husband screwed up things like the welfare system.
But I think there is a much more fundamental difference between the Clintons and the Bushes. I don’t even see the Clintons as a dynasty. They are a power couple. They were both involved in politics before they met. So their existence as a couple is largely due to their involvement in politics. It is the other way around for the Bushes. I don’t think that George W Bush would have gone into politics if it hadn’t been the family business. What’s more, I don’t see anyone taking him seriously if he had. He has always been a silly guy. People took him seriously because his father had been president. People take Hillary Clinton very seriously on her own terms.
So there is a Bush dynasty, but it is a Clinton partnership. Does that mean that there are no problems with the partnership? Not at all. And it is getting a lot of scrutiny — and it will get a whole lot more. But the Bush dynasty is a greater concern — especially in a country that so fetishizes meritocracy (even though it doesn’t practical it). But it seems oddly “off limits” in mainstream political discussions. Sure, people talk about it on the margins. But just imagine in Jeb Bush were elected president. That would mean that the last three Republican presidents were all from the same family: a father and his two sons. That’s a dynasty — and more proof than is required to call the lie of American “equality of opportunity.” A husband and a wife being president, separated by almost two decades, it is not a dynasty — although I still don’t especially like it.