It's over: Jeb Bush will be the GOP nominee in 2016
And that would be horrible for American democracy
Democracy is starting to get me down.
Oh, I know what you're thinking: I write regularly about American politics, and democracy is only just starting to get me down?
Okay, good point. Maybe I should say that democracy is starting to get me down even more than it usually does.
And why is that? Because it's beginning to dawn on me that Jeb Bush is probably going to be the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2016.
Consider: With the ongoing implosion of Chris Christie's political career, the GOP establishment has lost its best hope for a candidate who could stop a libertarian-populist insurgency during the primaries. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker — the list of viable fire-breathers is longer (and less dominated by incompetents, crazies, and one-note sideshow acts) than establishment types would like.
What are the alternatives?
There's Paul Ryan. Thanks to Mitt Romney, he has a national profile, along with dreamy blue eyes and an (undeserved) reputation as an intellectually serious policy wonk. Okay, that's something. But he also has a voting record (including a series of high-profile "roadmaps") demonstrating open hostility to Medicare, which even Tea Partiers adore. A Ryan nomination would be a dream come true for Hillary Clinton.
Then there's Marco Rubio, poster boy for immigration reform. That endeared him to the GOP establishment, which desperately wants to improve the party's standing with Latinos. But it's likely rendered him radioactive among the right-wing activists who increasingly control Republican money and the power.
And that leaves...Jeb! The "smart" brother! Sure, like Rubio, he's supported immigration reform in the past, but he's already distanced himself from the issue in a way that Rubio can't. Yes, Jeb would be freighted by bad memories of his brother's failed presidency. But he might be helped by warm memories of his father's presidency, which has gotten much better grades with the passage of time. Not to mention a ton of campaign cash ready to flow through networks built up during the family's decades in national politics.
Indeed, for the Republican establishment, it may come down to this: Only a Bush can beat a Clinton.
And that, dear reader, is why democracy is getting me down more than it normally does. Since 1980, when I was 11 years old, a Bush or a Clinton has run for president or vice president in eight out of nine contests (with Obama's 2012 re-election campaign being the only exception). Unless Hillary Clinton surprises everyone, 2016 is guaranteed to make it nine out of 10, which is bad enough. But the idea of the Republicans running a third Bush against her — it's almost too much to bear.
Or rather, it's almost enough to make me wonder why we don't just scrap the pretense of the United States being a democracy at all and instead embrace the truth — that, at least when it comes to the nation's highest office, we're now a nepotistic oligarchy.
Our system isn't even as unjust as a good, old-fashioned landed aristocracy. After all, one of the nation's two most powerful political families was founded not by a descendant of the Windsors or the Bourbons — or even the Kennedys — but by a man born to a lower-middle-class widow in rural Arkansas. Who says the American dream is dead?
But even so, shouldn't we save the term "democracy" for something a little more, you know, democratic than a system in which a small handful of families stands astride the political stage, dominating the nation's politics as far as the eye can see?
Imagine how liberating it would be to just go a step or two further — to give up altogether on going through the remaining democratic motions. No more 18-month electoral marathons. No more interminable series of primary debates. No more oceans of insufferable TV ads. No more dueling late-summer political infomercials. No more risk of candidates making embarrassing (albeit revealing) remarks at fundraisers. All we'd need is an agreed-upon interval of alternating party rule: either four years or eight years of a Clinton, then a Bush, then a Clinton, then a Bush, onward, in perpetuity.
There's no reason why most aspects of the political circus couldn't go on precisely as it does now. Meet the Press and Face the Nation could continue to keep John McCain busy on Sunday mornings. Pollsters could still measure the popularity of the president and his or her agenda. Columnists, including yours truly, could still sound off on the issues of the day. None of it would alter the course of a presidential campaign. But it would keep at least some Americans engaged with, and entertained by, what our rulers are doing with their power.
Not unlike the way it is right now.
But maybe it won't come to this. Maybe the GOP will nominate someone besides Jeb Bush. Hell, maybe the Democrats will nominate someone besides Hillary Clinton!
On second thought, let's not get carried away.