Saturday, May 22, 2010

More Dynasty Blogging

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
1996: Gore
1992: George H.W. Bush, second generation, and Gore
1988: Bush
1984: Bush
1980: Bush
1976: None!
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
1952: Stevenson
1948: None! (although Thurmond's running mate came from a political family)
1944: Roosevelt, long political family
1940: FDR
1936: FDR
1932: FDR
1928: None!
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.
1920: FDR
1916: None!
1912: Taft, third-generation pol; Hiram Johnson, second-generation pol
1908: Taft.  Bryan's father was a local pol
1904: None!
1900: Bryan

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.


  1. Why are you counting FDR as dynastic? He was from a wealthy and prominent family, but they weren't involved in politics very much before Franklin. Or maybe you're counting Teddy Roosevelt as the dynast, but they were fifth cousins. That hardly seems fair.

  2. I think the experience of growing up in a political family (national level) helps both to encourage and discourage political tendencies; you know the ropes, have familiarity with it's intrusion into your life, etc., a familiarity with fund raising.

    I had neighbors who were part of one of those dynasties listed above, and even at a very young age, the children seemed to be pruned and directed toward politics. They worked at their social skills, were careful and diplomatic in what they said, etc.

  3. Is W a special case? Mamma Barbara was related - however distantly to Franklin Pierce and Abigail Adams. According to Wikipedia, Obama is related to the Bushs, both tracing back to Edward I of England.

    But wait, there's more!

    Harold Brooks-Baker of London’s Burke Peerage says Bush’s royal connections are startling. “Bush is closely related to every European monarch both on and off the throne,” Baker told American Free Press.

    “They are cousins.” Baker said when asked about the relationship between Bush and the Bulgarian prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, who visited the White House on Feb. 25. Gotha is the former King of Bulgaria who was returned to power after decades spent in exile.

    About the apparent close relationship between Bush and the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, Baker said: “They know they are related.” Asked why the media fails to report these family ties, Brooks-Baker said, “The American public does not know who these kings are. Not one person in a thousand has any idea who these people are.”

    True? I dunno. The link suggests lots of relationships among royalty and presidents.


  4. @Tom Nawrocki

    FDR capitalized on his last name when he launched his political career in 1910, just a year after Teddy left office.

  5. @Jazzbumpa

    The majority of U.S. presidents have traceable family relationships with each other. Obama, as I recall, is related to six other presidents. About 40% are related to British royalty, also including Obama.

    (I'm not going to dig up the sources. I recall reading a book about this years ago, and I believe Wikipedia covers it, as do several articles that appeared in the press in 2008.)

    But none of that implies a "dynasty" unless the relationship is well-known and had a visible effect on the politician's rise. Obama's relationships with other presidents are distant at best, and certainly no one else named Obama has ever risen to national office in the U.S. before.

  6. I think you have the wrong mental model here. A dynasty passes some office down from one generation to the next (or from one member of the family to another), more or less directly. Now, if the 2008 election had been between Jeb Bush and Hilary Clinton, I might consider that we have a dynastic system, but lacking that, I don't think the model fits at all.

    The Kennedys are certainly a dynasty in Massachusetts and there are a few other dynasties at the congressional level, but generally the pattern you see here is much more that are families where the chosen profession is politics, not unlike families of physicians, lawyers, preachers, and teachers.

    Actually, maybe the best analogy, and one our host surely knows, is baseball. There are at least as many multigenerational major league baseball families (the Alomars, the Alous, the Bells, the Boones, etc.) as nationally prominent political families. Just as growing up in a baseball family increases your chance of making the majors, being born into a political family increases your chance of becoming a prominent politician. In both cases, the reason is fairly simple. You have the opportunity to pick up an unusual set of skills and, perhaps, get used to an unusual lifestyle.

  7. Tom,

    5th cousin is in fact tenuous, but it's not all: he married more directly into TR's family. Eleanor was TR's niece. To me, that makes it a clearly dynastic presidency.

    Also, I agree with Kylopod on the issue of distant relatives.

  8. One other thought about dynasties occurred to me. The famous name you share doesn't have to be a positive association to help get you ahead. When Dubya first ran, most Americans remembered the elder Bush as a failed one-termer who had fallen out of favor with his own party as well as the general public. There's no denying that Dubya's rise depended on his familiar name and appearance, but paradoxically he also had to convince both the GOP and the public that he was different from his father.


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