The dynasty project is not faring well. Two relatives of three of our most recent presidents have faced early woes in their succession plans, despite layers of aides, networks of backers going back generations, and extravagant levels of cash. On June 11, a front-page story in the Washington Post described the first six months of Jeb Bush’s campaign as a “political operation going off-course, disjointed in message and approach, torn between factions and more haphazard than it appeared on the surface . . . defined by a series of miscalculations.” The campaign’s backers said “strategic errors were exacerbated by unexpected stumbles by the would-be candidate, and internal strife within his team.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. It is not only the story of Bush, trying to follow his father and brother as president, but also of Hillary Clinton, who is trying to walk in the tracks of her president husband, and also, too, of Edward M. Kennedy, who in 1979 became the last of three brothers to run for that office. Each began with the highest of great expectations, tripped coming out of the gate, and endured a tough slog while attempting a reboot. Each struggled also with legacy issues, which proved in the end a more than mixed blessing and some part of which each would be forced to disown.
As is true of the rich, dynastic families are not quite like the rest of us, in a number of obvious ways: They live in a world where the White House was a family residence, access is assured to most things and most people, and nice things—invitations and offers to make money in business—somehow keep coming their way. Bushes and Kennedys have been millionaires (Prescott Bush and Joseph P. Kennedy), ambassadors to serious countries (George H. W. Bush and Joseph P. Kennedy), elected officials (Senators Prescott Bush, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Governor George W. Bush of Texas), and, when their fathers or brothers hadn’t themselves been president, they were people whose calls he would take.
But while it took the Bushes and Kennedys a number of generations to get to the big time, the Clintons managed to do it in one generation, with Bill and Hillary together racking up a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars and holding no less than five major offices—governor of Arkansas, president, first lady, senator from New York, and secretary of state—between them and all by themselves. But however it came or how long it took, dynastic family members share the idea that the White House is reachable, and, if they have or are told they have talent, they may think it is what they deserve. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton were told from a young age how brilliant they were, and they seemed to believe it: Jeb was the Phi Beta Kappa who finished school in two and a half years, and Hillary Rodham was told—even before she set eyes on Bill Clinton—that she could and should seek the big time herself. No one ever told Ted Kennedy how brilliant he was (and certainly never his brother the president), but by the time his two older brothers had both been murdered he had been turned into a sacred vessel of sorts by the people around the family, the very last prince of the blood left standing, and their last chance to hold power again. If this leads to swelled heads it is hardly surprising. And there is one other element to be reckoned with: When a family has held power for a long enough time, it accumulates an army of aides, friends, and donors—a court party—whose purpose in life is to care for the family interests. The upside of this may be self-evident, but the downside is that these loyal retainers are unlikely to question the queen or young master, or to tell them they’ve made a mistake.
Later this summer the Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution requires that every state recognize same-sex marriages. Thus, in a ritual that would seem bizarre if it had not become so ordinary, nine lawyers will issue a decision authoritatively resolving subtle and far-reaching issues that are not distinctively legal. After all, the ancient institution of marriage implicates difficult questions about history, culture, psychology, and morality.
On September 4, 2014, as the NATO summit convened in Wales, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron coauthored an op-ed in the Times of London. Its headline: “We will not be cowed by barbaric killers.” On January 15, a mere four and a half months later, the same coauthors had the good fortune to have another submission accepted by that august paper. Its headline? “We won’t let the voice of freedom be muzzled.”
"If today’s extremist rhetoric sounds familiar, that’s because it is eerily, poignantly similar to the vitriol aimed squarely at John F. Kennedy during his presidency. And just like today, Texans were leading what some of them saw as a moral crusade. To find the very roots of the paranoid right of 2013, just go back to downtown Dallas in 1963, back to the months before the Kennedy assassination. It was where and when a deeply angry . . .” (Bill Minutaglio, Washington Post, November 21).
As Americans pause to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, they should not overlook the other fateful assassination that took place that same month. On November 2, 1963, South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem was murdered in Saigon in a coup carried out by a group of generals operating with the tacit approval of the U.S. government.
The Sunday after Kennedy was shot my dad and I drove downtown to Dealey Plaza. It was an apology of sorts since my parents had refused to let me skip school to see the presidential motorcade on November 22. We were standing on the grassy knoll between the Old Red Courthouse and the Triple Underpass when our neighbors from across the street—a man and his teenage son my age—walked up with a noose and began exhorting bystanders to go lynch Lee Harvey Oswald.
John Forbes Kerry is one of those upper-middle-class East Coast types of estimable lineage and impeccable credentials (St. Paul’s, Yale, U.S. Navy) whose tribal habits were the subject of the late sociologist E. Digby Baltzell (The Protestant -Establishment, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, etc.). Baltzell popularized the term WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)—-although Kerry is Roman Catholic, not Protestant—and explored the historic WASP ascendancy in American business, education, cultural institutions, and government.
The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy is nearly upon us, and it feels as if Camelot has returned like Brigadoon. Many a navel is currently being gazed upon in the media in an attempt to wring some contemporary meaning out of JFK’s tragic end. Some of this was inevitable—the shelves of The Weekly Standard’s book section are straining under the weight of the latest conspiracy tomes—but an unsettling amount of the commentary has amounted to taking an American tragedy and using it as an excuse for partisan jeremiads.
For a brief moment last week, The Scrapbook felt a twinge of compassion for President Obama. The setting was Berlin. Readers will remember the extraordinary (and extraordinarily peculiar) sight in 2008 of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking to a throng of 200,000 worshipful Berliners in the Tiergarten. No American candidate had ever before campaigned in a foreign country—especially one where spectacles of mass enthusiasm revive instructive memories.
President Obama, speaking earlier today at conference on mental health at the White House:
"There are other people who are leading by example. My great friend, Patrick Kennedy, when he was running for reelection back in 2006, he could have avoided talking about his struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. Let’s face it, he’s a Kennedy," said Obama.
It has become increasingly clear that the Obama-era Democrats view every major societal event as a new invitation to spend money, centralize power, or both. The horrendous shootings in Connecticut have the Democrats lobbying not only for new legislation, but new federal legislation — and hence more federal power — rather than entrusting the passage of any such legislation to the states. Meanwhile, the damage from Hurricane Sandy has the Democrats looking to do the only thing that they might enjoy even more than enacting cumbersome legislation — spending borrowed money.<