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Political dynasties: Even matriarchs see limits

Former first lady Barbara Bush during an April luncheon.

Associated Press

Former first lady Barbara Bush during an April luncheon.

Barbara Bush was characteristically blunt when an interviewer asked whether she wanted to see her second son make a bid for the White House in 2016. He’d be “by far the best-qualified man,” she said, “but no, I really don’t.” As the first woman since Abigail Adams to be the wife of one president and the mother of another, Bush might have been expected to be all for keeping the presidency a family affair. Instead she seems to have come to the sensible conclusion that political dynasties aren’t healthy for a democracy.

“There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes,” she observed.

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Her son Jeb, the former Florida governor, will have to make his own decision, but his mother makes a good point. Americans justifiably take pride in a society in which anyone, regardless of wealth or ancestry, can be president. Political royalty goes against the American grain. No surname — be it Bush, Clinton, Kennedy, or Roosevelt — should be regarded as a qualification for high office.

The Bushes and Clintons have played an outsize role in politics for decades. That prominence isn’t likely to fade if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016. Like other candidates, presidential wannabes named Bush or Clinton should be judged on their own merits. But a campaign by either of them would legitimately raise the dynasty issue. Barbara Bush isn’t the only American concerned about the prospect.

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