GEORGE Bush poses with a Cabinet including former Secretary of State George Schultz and other Republican luminaries. Actually, it's not President Bush. It's a son of ex-President Bush. Nor is it a Cabinet. It's an "exploratory committee."
The avowed purpose of said panel is to see whether George W. Bush, governor of Texas, should run for the job once held by his father. The unavowed purpose is to make clear that he has Dad's name, Republican friends and list of contributors. Children of nobodies should think twice before running against one whose ascendancy is assured. The emphasis on lineage may also help the public forget that until only about five years ago, George W. Bush had never held elected office.
Thomas Paine made a great effort to convince colonial Americans that ordinary people can govern themselves. He found no logic in a system whereby children of monarchs automatically became rulers themselves. "How a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species," Paine wrote, "is worth inquiring into."
It took the Brits until this year to propose ending the right of aristocrats with inherited titles to vote in the House of Lords. They might as well send the powdered wigs and silk hosiery here. Americans love to shower power on the offspring of ruling elites.
George W. Bush is hardly alone in using a family name to spare him the unpleasantries of starting a political career from scratch. His brother Jeb Bush is the businessman who has assumed the governorship of another superstate, Florida.
There have even been titterings in the press that George W. Bush might choose Jeb Bush as his vice-presidential running mate, a Bush/Bush ticket. George W. Bush's likely Democratic opponent is Vice President Al Gore, an heir of the Gore dynasty. Elizabeth Dole is running for the Republican nomination. She, too, has "name recognition," thanks to her marriage to former Senate Majority Leader and GOP presidential candidate Robert Dole.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, is said to have the Democratic nomination in the New York Senate race locked up -- if she wants it. Mrs. Clinton has never held public office and has never lived in New York. But then, what does the other contender, an industrious commoner named Nita Lowey, have to recommend her? Only six terms in Congress.
Newsweek put Mrs. Clinton on its cover under the confident headline, "Her Turn: Senate or World Stage." And the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party insists that Mrs. Clinton "owns New York."
When Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, first announced his retirement, two other scions considered claiming the senatorship. One was Andrew Cuomo, son of former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. Another was Robert F. Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Few people north of Trenton, N.J., have the temerity to run against a Kennedy. (We mean one of "The Kennedys," not just an ordinary Kennedy.) The media automatically dismiss such dreamers as "sacrificial lambs," the most pitiful of political terms. Be aware, however, that the House of Cuomo is tied to the House of Kennedy through the marriage of Andrew to Kerry Kennedy, sister to Robert.
Sons of pols
In the last governor's race in Minnesota, no fewer than three dynasties vied for the Democratic nomination: Skip Humphrey, son of former vice president Hubert Humphrey; Mike Freeman, son of former governor and agriculture secretary Orville Freeman; and Ted Mondale, son of former vice president Walter Mondale.
Mr. Humphrey got the nomination but then lost to political novice Jesse Ventura. (Mr. Ventura not only lacked a famous family name, but also didn't even have his own.) Only Mr. Ventura's ability to capitalize on his colorful wrestling background saved him from fading into obscurity against the bright sun of Mr. Humphrey.
The impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee offered a marvelous sight: The clueless Mary Bono helping decide the fate of a presidency. Mrs. Bono's qualification for office was her experience as fourth wife to the late Republican Congressman Sonny Bono. And she may not be the last aspirant from Casa Bono.
Vanity Fair magazine seriously asked Chastity Bono -- Sonny's daughter by second wife Cher -- whether she might run for Congress herself. Chastity Bono, who has gained some celebrity as a genial lesbian activist, seriously answered. She has no plans right now for higher office, but might change her mind.
Poor Tom Paine! Imagine him turning on ABC's "This Week" as Sam Donaldson predicted (wrong as usual) that Skip Humphrey would take his rightful place as governor of Minnesota. "I mean," Mr. Donaldson said, "the delight, nationally at least, to have another Humphrey in the arena!" These are the times that try men's souls, Tom. They really are.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal editorial writer and columnist.
Pub Date: 3/17/99