The pros and cons of a famous name

Dateline: 21 February 2007

Let’s look at a presidential candidate who isn’t running. A two-term governor with a record of cutting taxes and introducing school choice, he took a state which the Democrats had held for almost two centuries and captured the governor’s mansion and legislature for the Republicans. He remains popular in the second largest of the states that twice voted Bush. So why isn’t he running? Because of his name: Jeb Bush.

Since John Quincy Adams – son of the second President – became the nation’s sixth, there has been dynasticism in American politics. The thirty-fifth President was the son of an Ambassador, and his younger brothers both entered the senate and ran for President. At least two of his nephews have sat in Congress; his niece was Lt. Governor and defeated gubernatorial candidate in Maryland; his brother-in-law ran for Vice-President and another niece is married to the governor of California.

With all this worship of family fame – perhaps especially among Democrats – it is no wonder that the front-runner among Democrat hopefuls is the wife of the last Democrat President. There seems little doubt that if she was called Hillary Rodham she would not be a blip in the polls.

One factor, of course, is that Hillary’s husband left office still very popular. Jeb’s father did not, and current indications are that his brother won’t either. But this is far from the whole story. Jeb announced that he was not running some time ago. W had been triumphantly re-elected with a bigger vote, in absolute and percentage terms, than Bill Clinton ever received. He had led his party to three successive congressional victories. If the President’s popularity grows, it may make Jeb look again at a 2008 run, but I suspect he would still decide against.

Of the two, Jeb’s achievements dwarf Hillary’s. He has run a large, diverse and complex state. She has run a senator’s staff. He is more popular than his party throughout his state. She is less popular than hers nationwide. If they were both called ‘Smith’ he would be running and she would not.

While a governor’s job is great preparation for the White House, it is arguably true that neither of the Bush brothers would have been governors in the first place without their family connections. But that argument goes tenfold for Hillary’s senate seat. The Bushes were, at least, long-term residents of the states that elected them. Hillary had had a layover at JFK. They were both successful businessmen: Jeb more so, but W in the high profile arena of a professional sports franchise. Hillary was an unemployed resident of DC when she ran for the Senate.

She had previously been a partner in one of the most successful law firms in Arkansas, but that would most obviously qualify her to run in Arkansas. In other states it carries less weight. This is especially so New York, where all lawyers suspect that the even most successful lawyer in Arkansas is in Arkansas because they aren’t good enough to get a job in New York. And, while Daddy’s connections may have opened some business doors for the Bushes, no doubt many clients of the Rose law firm believed – rightly or wrongly – that Hillary’s connections with the governor would be helpful to them.

Ultimately, Jeb has realized he won’t win. Hillary hasn’t realized it yet.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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