Jackson Doughart
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American royalty
Does the obsession with the Clintons say something about monarchy's enduring appeal?

Prince Arthur Herald, 16 August 2013


Several media outlets south of the border, including ABC, the Huffington Post, and the Washington Post, have recently publicized Chelsea Clinton’s acknowledgment that she may one day run for political office. ”Not now”, was her candid response in an interview, indicating that it was not a matter of if, but when. Miss Clinton has no reason, save for being the daughter of a former President, to be seriously asked this question. Even if she indeed intends to pursue a political career, it won’t begin until sometime in the future, well beyond the ephemeral interests of the mainstream media. So why would CNN have taken the time to ask her about her political ambitions? There is but one plausible answer: that Miss Clinton is already believed by a mass of the American population to be owed, if not political office itself, at least the opportunity to represent the Democratic Party in a future election.

Here in Canada, we have been experiencing the fruits of a similar process, with Justin Trudeau having been spotted by the public as a potential candidate as early as over a decade ago. But I would argue that these cases, while similar in their reverence for political progeny, are qualitatively different in character. Trudeau the Younger commands a following because of the perceived success of his father’s prime ministership, and would have never been found had his name been, say, Justin Trudel. But to give the man and his country some credit, there has never been the sense that he was owed power by mere virtue of his name alone. If the Trudeaumaniacs didn’t think he could govern well (and, let’s be honest, also have the best chance of returning the Liberal Party to office), they wouldn’t support him.

This case is far more analogous to that of America’s Bush family, where George Walker Bush was propelled to office, first as governor of Texas and later as president, on the coattails of his father, who had been, in addition to the 41st president, the vice-president and the head of the CIA. But like Trudeau, Bush was presumed by the elites of his own party to possess the wherewithal to be not only a candidate but also a statesman.

There is a different phenomenon afoot with Miss Clinton, manifesting itself far more seriously in the widespread presumption that the Democratic ticket in 2016 belongs to her mother. Democrats do not simply believe that Hillary Rodham Clinton, and perhaps one day her daughter, would govern well if given the opportunity. Rather, there is the sense that the office already effectively belongs to them, and that the process of an election would be a mere formality in the restoration of the House of Clinton to the White House. It is not fundamentally about competence or experience, but rather about a natural right to rule. Whether their holding office would produce good government is quite secondary. The Bushes and the Trudeaus are political families, but the Clintons are a royal family.

While Republicans supported Bush in 2000 and Liberals support Trudeau today at least partially because of their so-called electability, the likelihood that Mrs. Rodham Clinton represents the best “shot” for the Democrats is dubious. She is immensely popular among a vocal cohort of followers, but has always struggled to make gains among centrist voters and independents through the opinion-poll process, a key factor in determining “electability”. Nor does she have much notable experience of her own, save for her tenure as secretary of state, which she was given without any prior foreign-policy experience. In fact, it is quite possible that she was given that post for the sole purpose of stamping the Clinton imprimatur on the Obama Administration. All of this suggests that any presumptions of competence, let alone profound likeability, are unfounded.

Neither does the legacy of her husband lend her much support. Bill Clinton ran a very mediocre presidency, whose economic policies demonstrably contributed to the 2008 financial crisis, and whose foreign policy credits included the allowance of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, mass starvation under American sanctions in Iraq, and the intentional destruction of a medicine factory in the Sudan, which his administration had misidentified as a nerve-gas manufacturer. Not to mention his impeachment by the House of Representatives, which was not premised on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but rather on his committing of perjury in a sexual-harassment lawsuit and for his attempts to obstruct justice. He was later disbarred for having lied under oath.

Yet the adulatory and deferential way in which Mr. Clinton’s wife is now treated suggests that none of these factors make much of a difference, and that the pair’s collective claim to power is really only their due. And the making of the House of Clinton was clearly done in the way that all royal families are made: through political ruthlessness and abandonment of scruple, best exemplified by their means of earning money, which has since his exit from office amounting to little more than high-priced influence peddling.

All of this would seem strange for a country supposedly founded on a revolutionary rejection of monarchy. Yet perhaps the royal posture of the Clinton family and the way in which it has caught on among American progressives suggests something permanent or even innate about respect for dynastic rule. In Canada, the monarchy is to its opponents something of mere annoyance, representing as it does an emotional, rather than a patriotic, institution. But at least our hereditary head of state is politically impotent. In the United States, meanwhile, an organic and home-grown royal family can seemingly attain real power under republican rule, a possibility that, in the Clinton case at least, should cause considerable alarm.





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Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com