Dynastic Politics in the Cowboy State?

We Americans know that the head of state in a monarchy is an inherited position. But we rebelled against that system and created a republic, in which men (and later women) would be chosen to lead the republic on the basis of their own accomplishments, not their family ties.

Sure, we had the Adamses, and we may well be fortunate that neither George Washington nor Thomas Jefferson had a son. And there are other dynasties, often connected to one state, like the Longs of Louisiana and the Breckinridges of Kentucky. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is the sixth member of his family to represent New Jersey in Congress, dating back to the 18th century. One of his ancestors inspired the classic campaign song, “Hurrah, hurrah, the country’s risin’/For Henry Clay and Frelinghuysen!”

And today, of course, we face the prospect of replacing the son of a former president in the White House with the wife of a former president. We may have 24 or more years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.

One leading Republican strategist has recommended that Florida governor Jeb Bush run for president this year, on the grounds that — in this of all years — he won’t lose points for being a dynastic candidate. What is the opposing party going to say, “Don’t vote for the president’s brother, vote for the other president’s wife instead”?

But it goes beyond Bushes and Clintons these days. In a country formed in rebellion against dynastic government, some 18 members of the U. S. Senate gained office at least in part through family ties, along with dozens of House members.

And now … Wyoming? The Cowboy State, the Equality State, the home of wide-open spaces, rugged individualists, and yeoman ranchers — Wyoming is about to choose a senator to replace the late Sen. Craig Thomas. And according to the Washington Post, the most likely choices are

Lynne Cheney, whose husband served as a congressman from Wyoming before becoming vice president; state House Majority Floor Leader Colin Simpson, the son of former senator Alan K. Simpson; and two of Thomas’s three sons, Greg and Patrick.

Say it ain’t so, Wyoming. Show the Washington elite that celebrity and connections don’t cut as much ice in the Cowboy State as they do in the imperial capital. This is a republic, not an empire. If we can’t demonstrate that in Wyoming, what hope is there for the rest of us?