The Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Now the Bushes?

Contrasting the second inaugural of George W. Bush and some controversial speeches by Teddy Kennedy, WaPo has an odd feature today entitled, “The Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Now the Bushes.”

One of the 43rd president’s achievements in winning reelection, according to Bush family friends and historians, is to ease the sting of the 41st president’s failure to do so a dozen years earlier. The president’s victory also establishes firmly a fact that earlier was open to dispute: The Bushes now belong in the top tier of political families in U.S. history.

There may not be a distinctive “Bush style” that other politicians try to mimic, as they did with JFK’s appearance and wit. The family has yet to capture the romantic fancy of fiction writers and Hollywood producers. The incumbent is launching a second term, according to polls, with nearly as many Americans scornful of his presidency as supportive of it. No matter. By any objective measure, political scholars say, Bush is a name that belongs next to Adams, Kennedy and Roosevelt as a force whose influence spans decades.

As Hugh Hewitt correctly points out, though, there is no Kennedy dynasty:

Let’s review the history. TR and FDR were on a total of seven national tickets, and they served 20 years as president. The Bushes –to date– have been on six national tickets, with eight years as president completed and four more beginning this week, as well as eight years for 41 in the vice-presidency. The Kennedys have been on a total of one national tickets, with JFK’s term as president lasting under three years, Bobby’s campaign for the presidency uncertain of the nomination when he was murdered, and Teddy’s 1980 campaign a failure as was his surrogate’s John Kerry’s.

There is a Kennedy dynasty in Massachusetts and vast Kennedy affection in the Democratic Party and among liberal media. But there is no Kennedy dynasty in America, just an interesting family that wished for a dynasty and could never figure out that Jack’s politics might have pulled it off, but never Teddy’s.

Quite right. Certainly, the Kennedys have been important in American politics, especially if one counts the extended family, including in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, to the extend democracies can have “dynasties,” the presidency or premiership is the only place that can happen. Perhaps, absent two assassins’ bullets, there would have been a second JFK term and one or more RFK administrations. Or perhaps not.

Regardless, the Kennedys don’t belong on the conversation with the Roosevelts, Bushes–or Adamses or Harrisons, for that matter.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    I don’t think Teddy’s politics were what got him in trouble, but … other things.

  2. It all depends on how one defines “dynasty”–I wouldn’t measure it in just terms of the presidency–and in that sense, the Kennedys have a pretty impressive record in terms of Congress and so forth. The Bushes, in terms of immediate family, win the prize, however. As I noted on PoliBlog this morning: “the Grandfather was a US Senator, Daddy was a Congressman, Veep and President (amongst a ton of other posts of significance), and one son was a two-term governor (ok, 1.5 terms) of a major state and a two-term President while the other son was a multi-term governor of another major state.

    If one is scoring on offices alone, the Bush family “wins”–for whatever that is worth.”


    The Roosevelts have more years in the office–but they weren’t from the same exact family, and also, since they had divergent politics, were less of a true “dynasty” than the Bushes.

    Of course, it all boils down to trivia in many ways.

  3. Mark says:

    I think they include the Kennedys in the fact that there are so damn many of them who have served in elective office. JFK, RFK, Teddy, a couple of others in Congress. They keep going and going and going.

    Further, I think Hugh is wrong in saying there is a Kennedy dynasty in Massachusetts. Certainly they are associated with Massachusetts, but only JFK and Teddy served in Massachusetts (and one congressman). RFK was elected in New York, another elected in Rhode Island. A northeastern dynasty, perhaps?