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It seems to me perfectly natural that as the world has changed over the past three decades, so has our approach to government. The successor generations aren't clones of their political parents; they're blends of both their parents. It's easy to see in George W. Bush his mother's tart irreverence, or in Gore, the more pragmatic impulses of his mother.
The Successor - Ismail Kadare
But the generational contrasts in political families involve more than circumstance or biology or time. There's another factor: many of the successor politicians seem to learn more from their parents' failures than their successes. Once again, Bush is instructive. His admiration for his father is enormous the son praised the father so lavishly at the dedication of his presidential library that many took it as a slight at Clinton. But it's the weaknesses in his father's approach to politics that appear to have left the strongest impression on George W.
The father tended to govern by leafing through his in-box; the son is insistent on trying to control the political debate and define the agenda for his state on issues such as welfare and education. The concept of service is a very strong concept that was passed on from my dad's father to him; you served. I feel that as well. But on the other hand, I think you've got to have a reason to go into the political process.
You've got to have a vision. In his father's crushing loss in , the son says, "I did learn a lesson about incumbency. There has to be a what next. R epresentative Jesse Jackson, Jr. If anything, representing a district that sprawls from the South Side of Chicago into hardscrabble suburbs south of the city, he may be even more aggressively liberal than his father. While the father has grown closer to Clinton over time, Jackson, Jr. But local governments cannot resolve the health care crisis in America. Local governments cannot resolve the affordable housing problem in America.
Yet in the way he operates, Jackson, Jr. Reverend Jackson is peripatetic; Representative Jack son turns down almost all speaking requests and doggedly returns to his district on weekends. Reverend Jackson isn't known for attention to detail; like a South Side Al D'Amato, Representative Jackson works diligently to squeeze out federal dollars for nuts-and-bolts local improvements like signs pointing motorists to gas and food from the two interstates that cut through his district.
Representative Jackson's overwhelming priority is winning funding for a third Chicago airport that would be built in his district—a project on which he is so focused that he has refused to endorse the Democratic gubernatorial nominee because the nominee has refused to support the plan. Biology and circumstance may explain many of these differences Jackson, Jr.
But Jackson, Jr.
The son is insistently focused on being defined to his constituents—and ultimately the country at large—primarily as an advocate for economic, not racial, equity. Given all of the advantages successor-generation politicians enjoy, maybe the story isn't how many, but how few, now hold positions of power. In some countries, the phenomenon seems even more common. Gerald Curtis, an expert on Japanese politics at Columbia University, says that between 40 and 50 percent of the incumbent Diet members in the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party are the sons or sons-in-law of former Diet members.
In just half a century of existence, India has been led by three generations of Nehrus—India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira, and her son Rajiv. In the United States, nonpoliticians usually exceed politicians even in the most political families. Though it sometimes seems otherwise, even most Kennedys don't pursue political careers.
Explaining why some children of politicians run and others run away pushes you smack into the mystery of why families turn out the way they do. Nature, undoubtedly, is part of it: in his book on political dynasties, Stephen Hess reports that young Robert A. Taft was "rapt" at his father's presidential inauguration, while his brother brought along a copy of Treasure Island. But the way that young people react to their environment may matter even more. Growing up in a political family can be exhilarating, but also oppressive. It means expectations, exposure, and scrutiny for young people who'd often prefer to be left alone.
It's hard to imagine that the events of the past year have Chelsea Clinton dreaming of becoming the first woman president. In the end, the children in political families who run are those who find the opportunities greater than the burdens—a calculation that even in the same circumstances can differ for each member of a family. But if that's not consistent with your own value set about what you find to be rewarding, and what you want to accomplish with your own life, and hopefully on behalf of others, you are not going to follow that path. That the path is open at all to so many children of politicians still raises hackles in a society that recoils from the idea of hereditary advantage.
It's undeniable that some of the successor-generation politicians have risen faster, and further, than they would have without an ancestral boost. Maullin, the Santa Monica—based Democratic pollster, marveled when Kathleen Brown rose to become the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in California four years ago.
He says, "She is a bright woman, well-meaning, but I can walk around this office complex and find at least a dozen women who personality-wise are no different than her, but would have no chance of being a political figure whatsoever. Brown was, in many ways, an engaging and attractive candidate, but that doesn't diminish the power of Maullin's conclusion: born to a different family, she, like more than a few of her second-generation contemporaries, probably never would have found herself on the top of a ticket. T he comparison to baseball—another American institution with more than its share of father-son succession—is instructive.
In baseball, questions of fairness rarely arise when the sons of former players make it to the major leagues. Ken Griffey, Jr. Pete Rose, Jr. In the end, no one doubts that Griffey or Bonds succeeded not because of their names, but because of their skills.
The Successor Generation
That can't be said as definitively in politics. The advantages for a Bush or a Gore can make the playing field uneven as if pitchers facing Bonds or Griffey had to throw from a lower mound. No successor-generation politician can say as confidently as a successor-generation athlete that he succeeded entirely on his own.
Yet, even in politics, the successor generation seems to rise to its natural level, the Rose, Jr. After that you are on your own. No one will cede the Republican presidential nomination to George W. Bush in just because his father twice won it. T he dynastic process isn't entirely benign: in principle, a political system that increasingly rewards candidates with an external advantage not inherently linked to qualification for the job—a respected family name, a famous name, or a big bank account—is evolving away from the ideal of a representative government equally open to all.