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.