Forty percent of
Americans have never lived when there wasn't a Bush or a
Clinton in the White House. Anyone got a problem with that?
Rodham Clinton hoping to tack another four or eight Clinton
years on to the Bush-Clinton-Bush presidential pattern that
already has held sway for two decades, talk of
Bush-Clinton fatigue is increasingly cropping up in
the national political debate.
The dominance of
the two families in U.S. presidential politics is
unprecedented. (The closest comparisons are the father-son
presidencies of John Adams and John Quincy Adams,
whose single terms were separated by eight years, and
the presidencies of fifth cousins Theodore Roosevelt and
Franklin Roosevelt, whose collective 20 years as president
were separated by a quarter century.)
''We now have a
younger generation and middle-age generation who are
going to think about national politics through the
Bush-Clinton prism,'' said Princeton University
political historian Julian Zelizer, 37, whose first
chance to vote for president was 1988, the year the first
President Bush was elected. And as for the question of
fatigue, Zelizer added: ''It's not just that we've
heard their names a lot, but we've had a lot of
problems with their names.''
And now, if
Hillary Clinton were to be elected and reelected, the nation
could go 28 years in a row with the same two families
governing the country. Add the elder Bush's terms as
vice president, and that would be 36 years straight
with a Bush or Clinton in the White House.
Already, for 116
million Americans, there has never been a time when
there wasn't a Bush or Clinton in the White House, either as
president or vice president.
Does a nation of
303 million people really have only two families
qualified to run the show?
director of Harvard University's Center for Public
Leadership and an adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan
and Clinton, said there does seem to be concern about
the possibility of giving ''the two dynasties''
another four or eight years.
''I think we
would be fundamentally healthier if we broadened the zone of
candidates who could make it to the top,'' he said.
politics has been open to newcomers who rise up to reflect
the grassroots sentiment of the country, Gergen said.
possible, he said, ''but it's harder than it used to be,
especially because it's so hard to raise money'' for
expensive national campaigns.
The Clintons and
Bushes, he said, have built up strong ''brand''
recognition for their names -- just as the Kennedys did in
their age of promise cut short by two assassinations
-- making it harder for newcomers to compete.
people just want to try something new.
NBC-Wall Street Journal poll taken over the summer
found that fully one quarter of all Americans said
that the prospect of having at least 24 straight years
of a President Clinton or Bush would be a consideration in
their vote for president in 2008.
Democrats, 17% said it would be a consideration. That
compared with a third of all Republicans.
The nation has
changed dramatically since the first Bush claimed the Oval
Office in 1988: Then, the Soviet Union was exploring the
notion of perestroika, a public Internet was a promise
waiting to be fulfilled, gasoline cost about $1 a
gallon, and Hillary Clinton was an associate still
hoping to make partner at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock,
Clinton, now a
two-term senator at age 59, has been asked about the
long-standing Bush-Clinton grip on the Oval Office at two
Democratic debates, and she has a two-part response:
She dumps on the Bush part of the historical equation
and praises the Clinton component.
Asked in the
CNN-YouTube debate in July whether adding another
President Clinton to the Bush-Clinton-Bush sequence
would bring about real change, Clinton had a ready
''Well, I think
it is a problem that Bush was elected in 2000,'' she
offered. ''I actually thought somebody else was elected in
When the question
came up again in this week's debate in New Hampshire,
she told the audience, ''I thought Bill was a pretty good
She hastened to
add that she's running on her own, and ''I'm going to the
people on my own.''
Gergen said any
fatigue factor Clinton faces is ''overwhelmed by the
positive nostalgia for Bill Clinton among Democrats.''
The thought is
seconded by Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia
University's Graduate School of Journalism who has written a
new book about national politics. He said that while
some people are bothered by the dominance of the two
families, ''right now there is one massive fatigue in
America, and that is with George Bush. No other fatigue
But even if the
issue is not a problem for Clinton, Gitlin said, ''is it
a problem in some large sense that we seem to be alternating
dynasties? Yes, I think democracy should be more
How long could
this dynastic dynamic play itself out?
''Keep an eye on
their children,'' Gergen quips.
always presidential brother Jeb Bush, the former governor of
Florida. His oldest son, George P. Bush, is considered
likely to carry the family's political tradition into
the next generation.
ticket for 2012? By George! (Nancy Benac, AP)