After having a 2nd or 3rd generation Bush on the national ballot for decades, the 2008 presidential campaign was relatively dynasty-free. Not completely, of course: the runner-up for the nomination on the Democratic side was the wife of a former president; the sort-of runner-up on the Republican side was the son of a presidential candidate, and one of the also-rans on the Democratic side was the son of a Senator. Still, the eventual Democratic ticket was completely dynasty-free, as was the VP pick on the GOP side.
How should John McCain be counted? He's the first in his family to go into electoral politics. But his father and grandfather were four-star admirals, so its not as if they were strangers to government and policy-making. It's obviously a judgment call...if I were doing a formal study, I'd probably try to find a middle ground. For this post, it's enough to just note his background.
If one doesn't consider McCain a dynastic candidate, was 2008 a restoration of normal? Aren't candidates such as the Bushes unusual?
Ready? I'm going to list the dynasty candidates and hope that readers know which ones are Democrats and Republicans, presidential nominees and VP candidates. Also, this isn't intended to be an exhaustive list (in other words, I'm mostly relying on my memory + wiki).
2004: George W. Bush, third-generation pol
2000: Bush, and Gore, second-generation pol
1992: George H.W. Bush, second generation, and Gore
1972: Shriver, brother-in-law of President Kennedy
1968: None! (Humphrey's father was a small-town mayor, but really? I don't think so).
1964: None! (see 1968)
1960: Kennedy, 3rd generation pol, more or less; Lodge, long political family
1956: Stevenson, long political family
1948: None! (although Thurmond's running mate came from a political family)
1944: Roosevelt, long political family
1924: Dawes was from a political family; Davis was a second-generation pol; the Democrats' VP pick was Charles W. Bryan, who was William Jennings Bryan's younger brother.
1912: Taft, third-generation pol; Hiram Johnson, second-generation pol
1908: Taft. Bryan's father was a local pol
So, no, 2008 was definitely not a return to normal practice, unless you count McCain as a dynastic pol, in which case it was normal. I count seven fully non-dynastic elections in the 20th century (eight if you don't want to count the elder Bryan; six if you count Thurmond's running mate in 1948). Or, to look at it another way, almost exactly one out of four major-party nominees for national office over the period 1900-2008 have been from political families. And it's not as if Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Chris Dodd were unusual, either. There are plenty of Tafts, Lodges, and Stevensons who came close to nominations they didn't get.
What actually strikes me as I look through the list is that there are a lot of Tafts and Bushes, on the one hand, and then a lot of Nixons, Reagans, and Clintons, on the other hand. What seems relatively unusual are people who were from wealthy or otherwise prominent families -- even comfortably middle class families -- that were not prominent because of politics. There are some, of course, especially preacher's kids, I think (did I count three of those? four?), but not nearly as many as one might have guessed. Of course, there are a lot more poor and working class people than there are lawyers, professors, doctors, or corporate executives, but one might have thought that the latter group would produce plenty of successful pols.
Back to the main point, however: Bush, Gore, Romney, and the rest are nothing new.