Published June 15, 2012
The two great America political dynasties of the last 30 years are the Bushes and the Clintons.
Together, these two families have created a national drama that is as intriguing to watch as the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
And in the last week, just as the noble families in the TV show doing battling for control of the kingdom, both have roared at challenges from young lions within their own party.
Jeb Bush asserted his family’s dominance among Republicans in a speech critical of the hard right orthodoxy of the Tea Party. He said an inflexible GOP today fails to “allow for disagreement.” The former Florida governor criticized today’s Republican Party for its drift from moderate conservative policies of his father, President George H. W. Bush and President Reagan on issues ranging from immigration reform to taxes.
Among Democrats the roar from the Clintons dynasty came in the voice of former President Bill Clinton. The lone Democrat to serve two terms as president in over 50 years, since Franklin Roosevelt, reminded the current Democrat seeking a second term that he is “not an employee of the [Obama] campaign.”
As a surrogate for the Obama campaign, Clinton somehow felt the need to make a show of differing with President Obama and Democrats in Congress. First, the former president publicly endorsed the idea of a temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich. Clinton also undercut the Obama campaign’s criticism of Republican Mitt Romney by praising the Republican seeking to keep Obama from a second term as a businessman with a “sterling” record.
With those words Clinton, like Jeb Bush, asserted the right of royal disdain for elements of his party that fail to follow his leadership.
In both cases, the former president and the former governor spoke without fear of political reprisal because their future political prospects appear at first glance to be limited.
Jeb Bush, in his remarks, said it is not likely he will run for president and that he has no interest in being Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate.
He recognizes that the Bush family name is just too heavy a political weight at the moment because of the poor political standing of his brother, President George W. Bush. It will have to regain some luster in the public mind before Jeb Bush can launch a serious candidacy for the White House.
That effort is already beginning.
The new HBO documentary lionizing the first President Bush, who celebrated his 88th birthday last week, is a first step in rehabilitating the family as leaders of the GOP. Chaos in the Republican ranks if President Obama gets a second term will also offer new energy to a moderate Republican with strong appeal to the growing Latino vote.
By 2016 Jeb Bush’s star will be high among contenders for the nomination.
Similarly, Bill Clinton’s personal political future has a short-term limit. He cannot be president again.
The Clinton legacy, however, lives on in the potential of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is more popular with Democrats than President Obama. And she is the celebrated subject of recent news stories offering rosy assessments of her prospects as the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2016.
An Obama defeat this year has the potential to set the table for a Hillary Clinton presidency that will put the Clinton name on par with the Kennedy name in recent Democratic party history. It is worth recalling that Sen. Ted Kennedy, the keeper of his family’s political legacy, endorsed the upstart Barack Obama in 2008 in a move that ended or at least delayed the rise of a rival era of Clinton dominion over the Democratic Party.
President Clinton may still subconsciously view President Obama as the man who interrupted his grand plan to have his wife, in the style of Eva Peron, extend his legacy. His disclaimer that he does not work for the Obama campaign invites the thought that the one campaign he still does work to advance is his wife’s march to the Oval Office.
When Obama beat Hillary in the 2008 South Carolina Primary, Clinton dismissed the victory as unimportant by saying: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."
Many Democrats regarded Clinton’s comment as dismissing Obama as just another black candidate who got lucky with a large black electorate in one primary.
Obama pushed back hard on the Clintons for this statement. This prompted Bill Clinton to accuse Obama "playing the race card on me" and that his Jackson comment was being "twisted it for political purposes."
If Clinton is using the Obama re-election campaign as a pawn in an elaborate political chess game, you can bet that Obama’s 2008 charge of racial politics is a large part of the reason why. Clinton took great joy in being called the first “black” president because it made him king of all segments of the party.
The very same impulse – holding the reins of power over all parts of the GOP – are at play in Jeb Bush’s assertion of his still substantial power over the money men, the elected officials and opinion-makers in the GOP. He will not be pushed aside anyone claiming to be the true conservative.
Stay tuned to see which one of these families will be the first to reclaim the Iron Throne at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.