Tags: Hillary Clinton | Jeb Bush | Michelle Nunn | Elections

Political Dynasties Endure — Despite Toxic Campaigns

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Tuesday, 04 Nov 2014 01:02 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Families are what's left when normal people don’t want to be politicians anymore. Few among us want to put their dignity in a blind trust, give themselves up to unceasing fundraising, put a career on hold, say goodbye to kids and make — mostly negative — ads, and for what?

So much has been spent on the midterms — $4 billion and counting — and there's so little to show for it. No Soaring Dream; not a whisper of a New Deal or a Bargain, grand or small. What’s out there is negative. End Obamacare; stop an increase in the minimum wage, any new taxes, or gay marriage. The only thing you can favor more of is guns — in your holster or slung over your shoulder, in bars, airports, public parks, churches, and your local Starbucks.

Our politics have become so toxic that even those with a dynastic tradition of public servicea and have the thick skin that goes with it — are now suspect.

Take the Colorado Senate race. The Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, spent lots of money on ads slamming Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for being not just an incumbent but also a member of the Udall family.

In the old days, the senator's father, Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona, reached across the aisle to Sen. John McCain to do important work on protecting American Indians and conserving Western land and water. McCain visited Udall every week for years as he lay dying from Parkinson's disease. That loyalty still counts for something. McCain has traveled to every other close race in the country this year to help Republicans — and he won’t step into Colorado.

Apparently some of those who grew up watching their parents serve still seem to perceive some good amid the muck and remain willing to wade in. The names on the ballot this year include Pryor, Landrieu, Carter, Nunn, Laxalt, Graham, Perdue, two Udalls — Mark's brother Tom is running for re-election to the Senate in New Mexico — and, as always, a Kennedy. Teddy, who is seeking a state Senate seat in Connecticut. The Democratic spawn may be all that's standing in the way of Republican control of the Senate.

In Georgia, the Democratic Senate candidate, Michelle Nunn, has a good chance of turning the state blue. Her father, former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, was a centrist from a bygone era of collaboration. He sought out allies such as Republican Richard Lugar to get critical bills passed, including a seminal measure to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.

Michelle Nunn is a collaborator herself, having served as chief executive of Points of Light, the foundation inspired by President George H.W. Bush. Nunn's Republican opponent, David Perdue — himself the cousin of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue — is losing ground because of a previous career spent outsourcing jobs. In a state with one of the worst economies in the country, he has resorted to tarring Nunn with being a daughter-of, using a leaked internal strategy memo in which consultants called her father a “treasure trove.”

In regular times, he would be. The race is close and likely to go to a runoff.

It’s not as if Nunn or the rest couldn't more profitably pursue different careers being from a political family still gives a leg up in life. For many, it’s not enough to do well; they want to do good.

In Arkansas, former Governor and Senator David Pryor is one of the state’s most beloved officials. He appeared in an ad with his son, Mark Pryor, who is seeking re-election to the Senate and is running behind Republican Representative Tom Cotton. The emotion is visible in a spot in which the two sit at the kitchen counter and discuss healthcare. The elder Pryor leans in to the camera as he tells of his son’s fight for his life after a cancer diagnosis and his subsequent fight to get insurance to cover it. You can see that the acorn fell close to the tree.

Despite attempts to discredit political families in congressional and other down-ballot races this year, the days of dynasties are far from over. Watch as the presidential race begins in earnest Wednesday morning, and we may be looking at another face-off between a Clinton and a Bush.

Last week, George P. Bush — great-grandson of Sen. Prescott Bush, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush and nephew of President George W. Bush — said that his father, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, was more than likely to run, too. Former First Lady Barbara Bush was famously against Jeb being president — there are other families to do it, she huffed. But now, like the rest of the clan now, including Columba, Jeb’s wife, she's all for it.

We may groan at the thought of another Bush or Clinton — or Mitt Romney, the son of a governor and presidential candidate — in the White House.

We shouldn't complain. This wouldn't be happening if our politics were healthier or the establishment wasn’t so fearful of renegade candidates. For Democrats, the anti-Wall Street Senator Elizabeth Warren; for Republicans, any member of this year's bumper crop of lone rangers. Sen. Ted Cruz would split the Republican Party, as would the crypto-libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, who would do better than his father but not well enough. Rep. Paul Ryan has faded. Sen. Marco Rubio is flummoxed by immigration. Gov. Chris Christie is the establishment, all right, but damaged, a bully ever on the prowl for hapless citizens to humiliate.

With Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, at least there is a history of service. They are known quantities, able to unite their parties. They know how things are done because they saw governing firsthand. We may be tired of dynasties, but when everybody else is either tired of politics or tired of governing, there may be no one else to call.

Margaret Carlson is a former White House correspondent for Time, and was Time's first woman columnist. She appeared on CNN's "Capital Gang" for 15 years. Carlson has won two National Headliner Awards as well as the Belva Ann Lockwood alumni award from George Washington University Law School. Read more reports from Margaret Carlson — Click Here Now.

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Despite attempts to discredit political families in congressional and other down-ballot races this year, the days of dynasties are far from over.
Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Michelle Nunn, Elections
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2014-02-04
Tuesday, 04 Nov 2014 01:02 PM
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