Friday, March 7, 2008

Bush-Clinton Oligarchy

Dear Founder-Stalkers,

Have you ever thought about the fact that from 1988 to 2008 the President of the United States has been named either Bush or Clinton? That is twenty years of two families dominating the presidency--twenty years! Let's look at the definition of an oligarchy, shall we?

Oligarchy (Greek Ὀλιγαρχία, Oligarkhía) is a form of government where political power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society (whether distinguished by wealth, family or military powers). The word oligarchy is from the Greek words for "few" (ὀλίγον óligon) and "rule" (ἄρχω arkho). Compare with autocracy (rule by one person) and democracy (rule by the majority).

Yes, dear Founder-Stalkers, there are important differences between an oligarchy and a democracy. When the same two families dominate the presidency, then we can say that our political system is the rule of the few, not the rule of the majority. With the presidency controlled by two families and with the consolidation of political power into the Executive Branch that we've seen over the past twenty years, our government has become less majority rule and more oligarchic rule. For the past twenty years--a generation--we have allowed the same two families to control our government. If we saw another nation allow two families to dominate their politics, then we would not hasten to call that nation an oligarchy. But, when we look at ourselves we somehow still think that we still live in a democracy. How strange, we think. Of course, we know that many of our leaders have been born to privilege and have been somehow distant relations, but we believe that our current oligarchy is different in kind and we fear the effects of an entire generation (current college students were born between 1986-1990) that knows no other president than either Bush or Clinton.

Many of the Founders were concerned with the question of how to limit political family dynasties. GW was the perfect choice to be our first president many argued, in part, because he did not have a son and thus would not be allowed to set up a hereditary president-monarchy. John Adams was feared on account of his politically active son, JQA, and the family was often tarred with the "monarchist" label by politicians of both the first and the second generations. Since the Adamses we've had other important political dynasties--the Harrisons, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys--but, none of these family members ruled back to back like we've had recently. In fact, we've not had two families so completely dominate American politics since the Hutchinsons and the Olivers divided all of Massachusetts Bay Colony's political offices between them--and, we know what happened to them.

Tommy wrote a letter to Gerrymander on January 26, 1799 when he was hoping to become president that pretty well sums up his political principles and pointedly denounces hereditary office holding:
I do then, with sincere zeal, wish an inviolable preservation of our present federal constitution, according to the true sense in which it was adopted by the States, that in which it was advocated by it's friends, & not that which it's enemies apprehended, who therefore became it's enemies; and I am opposed to the monarchising it's features by the forms of it's administration, with a view to conciliate a first transition to a President & Senate for life, & from that to a hereditary tenure of these offices, & thus to worm out the elective principle.
We understand that Senator Clinton, and indeed one day Chelsea Clinton and Jenna and Barbara Bush, have the right to run for president under our Constitution. We understand further that if the people choose them, then these Clintons and Bushs are justly the President of the United States. We just wonder if this kind of oligarchy is really in the best interest of the nation.

M.O.W. believes that when Senator Obama argues that Senator Clinton represents "politics as usual," that this might be a part of what he means.

What say you, Founder-Stalkers?


GayProf said...

As you know, I have no particular horse in the Obama/Clinton race. One of the things that has bothered me about Clinton's campaign is her claim of "experience" which seems to be more about a family association with the presidency than actual experience.

Jim said...

How does this current oligarchy of opponents compare with the practice, not uncommon even in countries unquestionably democratic, of dynastic and spousal succession, e.g. Indira Ghandi and the Nehru dynasty? Bonus points for contrast amongst dynastic succession in N. Korea vs. non-dynastic in the former Soviet Union.

Furthermore, I'm especially curious to know how the Bush/Clinton period compares with the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian periods, in which a single political philosophy was predominant.

Jim said...

One might argue that the key element of the subject of your post is the filial succession within such a short timeframe, Bush-41 to Bush-43, coupled with the glaring similarities between them, both in policies and in people.

Clinton-42 would be considered a break in the Bush legacy, were it not for Hillary being a leading candidate. The unstated conclusion of your post is that electing Hillary would set up the oligarchy against which you warn, primarily because of the same short timeframe.

Either way, I get to say it's Bush-43's fault. :-)

Jim said...

As I border now on becoming a Founder-Stalker-Stalker, I have to wonder, in extension to my previous comments, about the 2000 coup d'etat vs the 1824 conspiracy.

1824: Legislative branch de jure decides Executive, rejecting winner of plurality decision. New President is the son of a previous President. Loser comes back fighting and founds a legacy.

2000: Judicial branch de facto decides Exective, rejecting winner of plurality decision. New President is the son of a previous President. Loser wins an Oscar.

2008: Both Democratic candidates have won Grammys.

Did the Democrats learn the wrong lesson from 1824/1828?

Mercy O. Warren said...

Dear Fellow Founder-Stalker Jim,

Thank you for taking an interest in our blog post. You've raised some interesting questions here:

1. You ask about how the Clinton/Bush oligarchy compares with "unquestionably democratic" countries.

We are sorry to report that we have to reject your assumptions Jim. When we look around the world we do not find any "unquestionably democratic countries." We find countries that might claim the appearance of democracy or invoke that term, but we do not find any governments in which all of the people are enabled to make the decisions of government. We believe that this is the problem, alas.

2. You ask how the B/C oligarchy compares to the Jefferson/Jackson period "in which a single political philosophy was predominant."

Once again Jim, we would have to reject your assumption for we do not believe that we could say in good faith that there was ever a period in this nation when a single political philosophy predominated. We could say that during the so called "Era of Good Feelings" that the Republican Party (of Jefferson) successfully destroyed the Federalist Party (of Hamilton)--and we would remind you that they did it to themselves really, with their Hartford Convention--but, the suppression of party difference does not equal an agreed upon political philosophy--indeed there were many, many differences between those who ran as Republicans. For example, Republicans disagreed on Internal Improvements, the Bank of the United States, Abolition, the Protective Tariff, the use of Federal Power, etc. Thus, we would disagree with your assumption. We think that there has never been a period in the country in which there was a general consensus on political philosophy.

3. You remind us of the comparison between the 1824 and the 2000 elections and ask if the Democratic Party might have learned the wrong lesson from 1824/1828.

We have to admit that we are not sure what the Democratic Party learned from the "corrupt bargain" of 1824, except that elections are a kind of warfare. We applaud your comparison, however, and we would suggest that perhaps the Democratic Party of 2000 might have exercised a wee bit too little of Andrew Jackson's fightin spirit in response to the Republican coup. We had hoped that they would have fought harder for the people, alas.