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Jewish World Review March 21, 2002 / 8 Nisan 5762

Philip Terzian

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Tipper's choice


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I'm not ashamed to say that I was deeply disappointed by Tipper Gore's decision not to run for the Senate. During the 24-hour news cycle between the first intimations of a candidacy and her final announcement, I had pleasant visions of Albert Gore's wife seated near Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Senate floor. As is well known, there is not much love lost between the First and Second Ladies of the Clinton administration, and it would have been fun to watch them simulate mutual tolerance -- or "collegiality," as they say in the world's greatest deliberative body.

But it is not to be. When Rep. Bob Clement, D-Tenn., told Mrs. Gore that he did not plan to step aside from his own well-financed and well-organized Senate candidacy, she quickly recognized that a divisive Democratic primary would only enhance Republican prospects for retaining Fred Thompson's seat. Two years ago, of course, Hillary Clinton had no such scruples: When she decided to parachute into New York, and gain some status independent of her spouse, the Senate candidacy of Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, was unceremoniously elbowed aside.

I regret Mrs. Gore's decision for another reason as well. I have an interest in political dynasties, and am intrigued by the fact that in populist, non-aristocratic America, we seem to be in the midst of a dynastic golden age. There is the current occupant of the White House, whose father was president and whose brother is the governor of Florida. Indeed, George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, served in the Senate during the same decade Tipper Gore's father-in-law, Albert Gore Sr., held the seat his son, Albert Jr., eventually claimed.

There are other examples. That Tennessee Senate seat may also be sought by Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., who succeeded his father as a congressman from Memphis. Elizabeth Dole, wife of Robert Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate, is busy running for the Senate from her home state of North Carolina. And in New York Andrew Cuomo, son of the three-term governor Mario Cuomo, is seeking to dislodge the Republican incumbent, George Pataki, who defeated his father.

Young Cuomo, in fact, is twice blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) since he is married into America's favorite tabloid dynasty, the Kennedy clan. Which brings us to another crossroads. Thanks to David McCullough's bestselling biography of John Adams, America's first political dynasty, the Adams family, is undergoing something of a revival in popular interest. It will not be easy to sustain: As one who can take John Adams or leave him, I can state categorically that his illustrious descendants -- President John Quincy, diplomat Charles Francis and historian Henry -- are something of an acquired taste. And yet, for all their personal flaws, they were decidedly impressive individuals with deep intellects and soaring accomplishments.

By contrast, in the space of a single generation, the Kennedys appear to be shrinking in stature. Having wrested a Senate seat from a doyen of the dwindling Massachusetts WASP ascendancy in public life (Henry Cabot Lodge) President John F. Kennedy may represent his family's high-water mark in politics. With the exception of his brother Teddy, whose presidential aspirations drowned with Mary Jo Kopechne, his only kinsmen in public life hold comparatively minor offices in small, one-party states.

Which proves, as any student of eugenics can attest, that the genes get diluted in time. There will always be the kind of ferocious ambition that propels a Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton into the White House. But can such instincts be inherited, or acquired by spouses and in-laws? The evidence is mixed. On the one hand we have the example of George W. Bush, who in short order transformed himself from an amiable businessman into governor of Texas and President of the United States, avenging his father's defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton. Then there are the four sons of Franklin Roosevelt, the greatest American politician of the 20th century, not one of whom displayed their father's taste for command or prodigous talents.

It's the difference, I suppose, between Tipper Gore and Hillary Clinton. By most peoples' standards, the political life is unpleasant: You live under constant scrutiny, you are perpetually on duty, you are publicly torn to pieces by critics. The person who thrives under such conditions finds a satisfaction that is incomprehensible to the average citizen. If Tipper Gore were the kind of politician with an instinct for the jugular, she would have looked upon Bob Clement as a flyspeck on the windshield of her career. Instead, she listened to reason and bowed gracefully to the inevitable.

That's no way to build a political dynasty, but there are things in life other than running for office.



JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.

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