Americans Love Political Dynasties More Than … Most Things, Really

They just can’t admit that to themselves.

George W. Bush: The 43rd president recieved birthday wishes from Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006, but the highlight of his 60th birthday was an unexpected ending to the day's press conference. When Bush learned that reporter Raghubir Goyal shared his birthday, he called him up for a celebratory photo.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
May 1, 2014, 12:20 p.m.

If you fol­lowed the news cycle Wed­nes­day, you likely saw the NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll that found, among oth­er things, that the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans in­sist they don’t like polit­ic­al dyn­asties.

In­deed, a full 69 per­cent of people sur­veyed said they hope neither a Bush nor a Clin­ton will dom­in­ate the pres­id­en­tial race in 2016. And that makes sense, giv­en Amer­ic­ans’ his­tor­ic­al dis­taste for no­bil­ity and af­fin­ity for the un­der­dog.

The funny thing is — and this will not be the first time you’ve seen a dis­con­nect between the Amer­ic­an dream and polit­ic­al real­it­ies — 66 per­cent con­fess to hav­ing fa­vor­able views of the Clin­ton fam­ily and 54 per­cent like the Bush fam­ily.

The num­bers align quite per­fectly with an ana­lys­is made by Up­shot con­trib­ut­or and Dart­mouth polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist Brendan Nyhan a few days earli­er. Writ­ing in The New York Times, Nyhan noted that des­pite Amer­ic­ans’ in­sist­ence they’re not in fa­vor of en­dur­ing polit­ic­al dyn­asties, they keep vot­ing Bushes and Clin­tons in­to of­fice, en­cour­aging them to keep run­ning. Early ef­forts to draft Jeb Bush in­to a race where Hil­lary Clin­ton is ex­pec­ted to be the top Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate sug­gest that’s not about to change.

Such hy­po­crisy is al­most en­dear­ing: Amer­ic­ans don’t ap­prove of fa­vor­it­ism un­less you ask them about their fa­vor­ites — or if you just ask them about someone whose ten­ure they’ve for­got­ten.

The real­ity of that is a bit more prob­lem­at­ic.

Take the leg­acy of George W. Bush, for in­stance. Back in 2008, Bush was deeply un­pop­u­lar, per­haps be­cause people still re­membered things like what the John Yoo tor­ture memos were. But time has been kind to the Tex­an, and since then his like­ab­il­ity has been on the rise.

We know it’s not be­cause he’s done any­thing re­motely polit­ic­al since then.

The rare in­ter­views he grants are usu­ally about quirky hob­bies, like his well-doc­u­mented pen­chant for bik­ing. And if we do see head­lines about him, it’s usu­ally a trib­ute to one of his dog paint­ings or bather self-por­traits. Oth­er times, the stor­ies are about his fath­er’s spe­cial-edi­tion socks. As I noted back in April, the Bushes have done a mas­ter­ful job of laun­der­ing their polit­ic­al leg­acy in the wash of quirky apolit­ic­al cool.

Aaron Blake, writ­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Post, ar­gued that the up­tick has something to do with a kind of Amer­ic­an nos­tal­gia, born in part of people’s tend­ency to for­get the bad and hold on to the good. And a short memory can be a use­ful tech­nique with re­gard to one’s emo­tion­al self-pre­ser­va­tion, a way of not be­ing weighed down by life’s bag­gage. It’s less use­ful at the polls.

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