ALL IN THE FAMILY.
Al Gore was born just a dozen blocks from the White House and reared, at least when Congress was in session, in a hotel set amid the embassies of Washington, D.C. George W. Bush knew 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the place where his father worked for a dozen years in successive jobs: Vice President of the United States for two-thirds of that time, President for the rest.
Their paths of privilege took them to prep schools and colleges that were different in name but identical in spirit: Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Yale for Bush; Washington's St. Albans School and Harvard for Gore.
Politics pumped so strongly in their blood that Gore first ran for a seat in the House of Representatives--the same seat his father once occupied--in 1976, at the age of just 28. (He won.) Bush lagged only two years behind, making his own bid for Congress in 1978 at the age of 32. (He lost.)
Now, despite all the primary-season chatter about giving Americans a new kind of politics, despite the tussles in both parties over which presidential contender could bring a fresh and unjaded perspective to governing, the contest has narrowed to these two. George W. Bush is the firstborn of former President George H.W. Bush, and Albert Gore Jr. is the only son of former Senator Albert Gore Sr. They're political princes with different styles but astonishingly similar inheritances.
Presidential historians say they cannot recall a previous election in American history when the nominees of both major parties were such prominent political heirs. Since the American colonies formally broke with the British monarchy in 1776, heredity hasn't usually been the path to power--though there have been exceptions (see "The First Families of U.S. Politics," page 13).
Among the challenges facing both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush is how they relate to their political ancestries, particularly the degree to which they reap the benefits of their backgrounds while avoiding the drawbacks. That balancing act has been a theme in both men's careers.
NAME VALUE HAS LIMITS
"I don't think either of them is going to have a slogan of `Vote for me, keep the tradition alive,'" says Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist, adding that such blatant appeals to family status over personal merit would be likely to backfire.
The two nominees and their supporters say it is the men's accomplishments that have made them credible presidential contenders. But their ancestries undeniably helped start and guide them in politics, providing them with networks, access to money, instantly high profiles, and other tactical advantages.
Additionally, their fathers' careers--especially their failures--taught them valuable lessons. When Albert Gore Sr.'s many distinguished years as a Senator from Tennessee ended with his defeat at the polls in 1970, one reason was his Republican rival's nasty and negative campaign, which the Senator did not match. His son exhibited no such reluctance in taking on former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey during the primary season last winter.
"His father's political demise was as instructive to him as anything that his father did while in office," says Bill Turque, author of the biography Inventing Al Gore. "It taught him the power of attack politics."
Governor Bush has a similar reference point: his father's failed bid for a second term as President in 1992. President Bush ran a campaign more responsive than assertive, hampered by dissension and disloyalty in the ranks. His son sought to avoid those mistakes, quickly putting Sen. John. McCain on the defensive during the 2000 primaries and entrusting his effort to a tightly knit circle of longtime political allies.
Both candidates recognize that if they are seen to be trading too heavily on their backgrounds, it could turn off voters. In 1992, when Al Gore won the vice presidency, his father said publicly, "We raised him for it." These days, the nominee invokes Albert Gore Sr. on the campaign trail to emphasize what a self-made man his father was. He mentions that his father was poor and had to attend law school at night. The Vice President need not worry that voters will think he is trying to trade on Americans' affection for his father, because only older voters in Tennessee would remember the man well enough.
DISTANCE FROM DAD
Former President George Bush, by contrast, is keenly remembered--he left office only seven years ago--and that creates both an added incentive for his son to mention him and a greater danger that some voters will raise an eyebrow when he does. So the Texas Governor is sparing about it.
On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, the Governor and his advisers abandoned such subtlety, putting his parents on a stage with him. The former President referred to the candidate as "this boy," and many analysts deemed the event a disaster that signaled to voters that a torch was being passed, rather than earned.
It was odd, because the Governor usually goes out of his way to avoid that impression. His folksy side seems like a conscious way of distancing himself from his aristocratic roots.
The Vice President takes his own stabs at a common touch. Did you know that he once lived in a trailer park? That he likes and watches The Simpsons? Voters at his town-hall-style meetings do, because he has made a point of telling them.
It promises a somewhat surreal spectacle between now and November: two candidates whose life stories could not be more entwined in establishment politics, and whose current situations owe a great deal to those circumstances, competing to convince Americans that they have just the right distance from it all.
RELATED ARTICLE: Family Trees With Deep Roots
The Bushes and the Gores can trace their family histories back to the early years of America. The Bushes have an ancestor who came to these shores on the Mayflower, while a Gore was one of the original settlers of the colony of Virginia. Genealogists say that George W. Bush is a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, and is also distantly related to 15 U.S. Presidents, not counting his father.
The more recent--and direct--political connections begin with George W. Bush's paternal grandfather, Prescott Bush, an industrialist and banker who was a Senator from Connecticut. Father George H.W. Bush was a Congressman from Texas, ambassador to the UN and to China, director of the CIA, Vice President, and President. Brother Jeb is Governor of Florida.
The Gores have been, for the most part, farmers. Al Gore's father, Albert Gore Sr., broke this pattern by becoming a Congressman and Senator from Tennessee.
RELATED ARTICLE: The First Families of U.S. Politics
Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush aren't just politicians; they're politicians' sons, who learned how to smile for the voters while still in short pants. But they're not the first presidential candidates for whom running for office runs in the family. Here are a few of America's best-known political dynasties.
THE ADAMS FAMILY: No, not Lurch and Morticia Addams. John Adams was the second President (1797-1801) and his son John Quincy Adams was the sixth (1825-1829). They remain the only father-son presidential tag team (a record threatened by George W. Bush). The elder Adams was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John Quincy Adams, after leaving the White House, spoke out against slavery for years as a member of Congress. And his son Charles Francis Adams was Lincoln's ambassador to Britain during the Civil War.
THE HARRISONS: William Henry, a war hero who won the presidency amid supporters' boasts about his fondness for hard cider and easy living, died 31 days after taking office in 1841, when a cold he caught on Inauguration Day turned into pneumonia. His grandson was elected 47 years later with a campaign song called "Grandfather's Hat Fits Ben." Ben was voted out of office after one term (1889-1893), the victim of falling farm prices and labor disputes.
THE ROOSEVELTS: Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) were only distant fifth cousins--from different parties, to boot. But this power pair, descendants of wealthy early settlers, left a huge mark on 2Qth-century America. Republican Theodore's administration busted monopolies, began the regulation of potentially harmful drugs and foods, and set aside millions of acres of parkland for conservation. Democrat Franklin Delano rallied the nation with his New Deal programs during the Depression in the 1930s, when millions were jobless, and served almost to the end of World War II. He was the only President to be elected to third and fourth terms--even though polio had confined him to a wheelchair.
THE KENNEDYS: Joseph P. Kennedy, a ruthless businessman who hobnobbed with bootleggers and Hollywood stars and then became U.S. ambassador to Britain, had one key ambition: that a son of his become President. He got his wish. John F. Kennedy was sworn into office in 1961. But tragedy haunted the family. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. His brother Robert, who had served as John's Attorney General and was a U.S. Senator, was killed in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. Their brother Edward (Ted) Kennedy has been a Senator from Massachusetts since 1963.
FKANK BRUNI is a Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
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|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Sep 4, 2000|
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