ASSUMING you are reading enough about Topic A elsewhere...


August 24, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ASSUMING you are reading enough about Topic A elsewhere, did you ever hear about the time Jimmy Roosevelt tried to beat up Mendel Rivers during a debate in the House of Representatives?

But first -- this week, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. refused to enter the presidential race (Topic B). He owes his prominence in large part to his name. If Albert Gore Sr. had not been a senator, there might never have been a Senator Gore Jr.

Having a famous father or grandfather or uncle in politics has always been helpful -- at the congressional level. Think of Sen. Millard Tydings and Sen. Joe Tydings here.

There have been four Senator Frelinghuysens from New Jersey. There have been five Senator Bayards from Delaware. I could go on and on. Let your fingers do the walking through the Biographical Directory of the American Congress and they will stumble across numerous clusters of fathers, sons and grandsons who held the same jobs.

Rarely, you also find daughters -- for example, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who represents a San Francisco district in the House today, is the daughter of Rep. Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., who represented a Baltimore district in the 1940s. But in her case, as in the case of Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, whose father was Alf Landon, governor and presidential nominee, it was not the name but the genes and the environment that produced the success.

Why hasn't genealogy played the same role in presidential politics? Do we instinctively and subconsciously fear monarchal dynasty? Only one son of a president ever became president: John Adams' John Quincy Adams. Only one grandson of a president ever did: William Henry Harrison's Benjamin Harrison. Only one other presidential son ever even came close: William Howard Taft's Robert A. Taft finished second in the 1952 Republican presidential nomination race.

Another Kennedy will probably be in the White House someday. But you never know. Many Democrats are still waiting for another Roosevelt. It was the death of James Roosevelt this month that really prompted this column. He was one of two sons of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who, may people thought, might become president someday.

Both were elected to Congress, Jimmy from California and Frank Jr. from New York. Both ran for governor. Both lost. Had either won, he probably would have been at least a contender for the national ticket. Both the men who beat them (Earl Warren, Averell Harriman) were.

None of the obituaries mentioned my favorite James Roosevelt story. Like his mother, he was a courageous liberal on race issues. Once he got into a floor debate with boozy Rep. Mendel Rivers of South Carolina. Rivers referred to him as "the son of the greatest ------ loving woman who ever lived in the White House." Roosevelt leaped for the man with fire in his eyes and his fist cocked, but he was pulled away before he could make history.

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