Who’s your daddy?

Lovely piece by Gary Yonge.

The web of wealth and family connections that has levered Bush to power and has since characterised his administration is an indictment of America’s political culture. “George W Bush was named [after] a father who excelled at everything,” argued Bush Jr’s former speechwriter David Frum. “He tried everything his father tried – and well into his 40s, succeeded at almost nothing.”

Therapy could have dealt with this quite effectively. Instead we have been afflicted with one of the most ostentatious and wrong-headed affirmative action programmes known to the western world, in which a man unburdened by imagination inherited – almost literally – a cabinet unburdened by merit.

His father’s secretary of state (James Baker) oversaw the Florida recount in 2000 as chief legal adviser and was instrumental in taking the case to the supreme court. Once installed, Bush took his father’s joint chief of staff (Colin Powell) and made him secretary of state; his father’s defence secretary (Dick Cheney) became vice-president; his father’s special assistant on national security affairs (Condoleezza Rice) became national security adviser; and in a fit of oedipal petulance, he took one of his dad’s enemies (Donald Rumsfeld) and made him defence secretary.

Not only did such appointments set new lows for cronyism, sleaze, dysfunction and incompetence. But by drawing leadership from such a tiny gene puddle they reflected an aberration of the very democratic impulses and meritocratic culture with which most Americans identify and apparently cherish.

“It is easy to see that the rich have a great distaste for their country’s democratic institutions,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic 19th century treatise, Democracy in America. “The people are a power whom they fear and scorn.” But recently the people and the rich seem to have come to an accommodation over the stewardship of their democracy. Having dispensed with the tyranny of kings more than two centuries ago, the populace now seems to have taken to electing its own monarchy. In all of this Bush is an easy, if apt, target. For the sclerosis in America’s political class is pervasive and profound. Today Jimmy Hoffa (the Teamsters union leader), Richard Daley (the Chicago mayor) and Martin Luther King (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference head) all carry the names and job titles their fathers did; 5% of senators are doing the jobs their daddies did; and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is herself a congressman’s daughter…

Puts Mrs Clinton in context, eh?