I started this blog in the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign with a comment on presidential polls. Recently U.S. politics has hardly been a feature here. Not because I haven't been thinking about it, both professionally and personally, but because there's so much that could be said and I'm not sure I have anything particularly unique to say very often ...
The question of Presidential dynasties has inevitably come up in this campaign, with Hillary Clinton seeking to take over from George W. Bush. There are some good democratic, republican arguments against dynasties. But the founders of the American republic conceived of republicanism as a mixed form of government. This emphasis on mixed forms—democracy, aristocracy, and Amonarch—was heavily classical, influenced by Greek and Roman thought. The President was the analogue of the monarch.
Monarchy, of course, is dynastic by design. The typical rules of monarchical succession favor the son or grandson, and so has the American republic (Adams, Harrison, Bush). But restoring the Queen would hardly go against monarchical ideas. Thus, I wonder if a Hillary Clinton Presidency really does go against republican ideals. It merely harks back to earlier notions of a monarchy embedded in a republic that America was founded on.
Though she would never phrase it that way herself, Hillary Clinton is clearly running on her time as Queen. Her campaign's invocation of experience leans heavily on her time as First Lady. It's unfortunate, as it makes the Clinton's marriage a legitimate part of public debate. I'm not talking about their sex life, which is neither here nor there. The thing is, the public has no-way of evaluating Hillary's political experience without inquiring into how Bill and Hillary Clinton worked together during the Presidency.
It's quite possible that Hillary made important contribution to decisions in the Bill Clinton White House. But we don't know whether her arguments carried the day, or whether her instincts were the right ones, because they were hidden. When you're not actually elected yourself, the political consequences of being right or wrong are not as substantial. Your arguments in private are largely free of the responsibility to publicly account for your actions and their consequences.
Hillary Clinton wants us to believe she was intimately involved in political decisions in the Bill Clinton White House. That is entirely plausible. It's easy to imagine that being both intensely interested in politics they would discuss Bill's decisions. But think for a moment how much you know about your spouse's job. Even if you were in the same occupation, could you step in and do their specific job? What do spouses actually discuss about work? It might be the substance, the decisions that have to be made, but it might also be weighted towards the frustrations, the office politics, the grievances. Being married to someone does give you a unique insight into their job, but it's quite possibly biased and slanted. Arguably, being secretary or chief of staff is better preparation for actually doing the job.
Now think of some married friends. For arguments sake, let's say they work in basically the same occupation, so they might seek each other's advice about their work. How much do you really know about how much your friends discuss work matters? Even in the best case scenario where they work in the same area, they might choose not to discuss work much at home. Generally speaking I'm unaware how much and in what way my married couple friends share the details of their jobs at home. I'm sure it varies, and in ways I don't expect. And I know those people! How I'd be able to guess what the Clintons shared I really don't know. Other people's marriages are hidden to us (thankfully). Think of times you've been surprised to hear about friends breaking up, who seemed quite happy together in public. How we relate to our spouses or friends in public can hide the true relationship. But this is what the Clintons are both inviting for public discussion, and at the same time providing little detail on: how much and in what ways Hillary was involved in Bill Clinton's Presidency. Some of that answer is obvious from the public functions she performed as First Lady. But the First Lady's evolved public role is—as the Queen—to be ceremonial rather than cerebral. The relevant experience that Hillary Clinton is claiming, having been part of decisions, is necessarily private and wrapped up in the specifics of the Clinton's marriage.
The most specific preparation for taking decisions in elected office, is having held other elective offices. Neither of the Democratic candidates—Clinton or Obama— have great experience in this regard, but the candidate with the most conventional outline of a biography for a Presidential nominee, Bill Richardson, who had been a Congressman, Cabinet Secretary and Governor, went nowhere fast. One might discount Obama's record in the Illinois Senate as being merely part-time state politics, but he has a longer record than Hillary Clinton of having to publicly account for his votes and decisions. Perhaps none of this will matter in the end, as the average American voter doesn't think like me, and John McCain's "experience" in the Senate has not resulted in terribly much important legislation. But restoration politics relies on the people believing the ancient regime was more than its head. A Clinton restoration would signal an American acceptance of the monarchical element in the republic, that the King and Queen were one.Posted by eroberts at February 14, 2008 8:45 PM