Why I Can't Even with the Word "Dynasty"

13418938_10101596393441754_3868145670203328764_n What this post is NOT about:

  • the "evils" of Hillary Clinton or her "weaknesses" as a candidate.
  • Bernie Sanders, the Democratic primary, the "scourge" that is superdelegates, or whether the whole thing was "rigged." (It wasn't.)
  • Benghazi, emails, or poor Vince Foster, may he rest in peace.

Comments on those topics will be deleted. Write your own blog post.

I've heard from various people a lot of discomfort (or disgust) over the Clinton "dynasty." In a country of 300 million people, they say, must we continue to mine the same family to fulfill the nation's highest office? It's unseemly in a country that calls itself a democracy (or democratic republic), and yet another example of how we've devolved into oligarchy.

Google tells me the first definition of dynasty is "a line of hereditary rulers of a country." Which the Clintons are surely not. Get back to me in 10-15 years when Chelsea Clinton runs for office.

The second definition of "dynasty" is "a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field." This one's obviously on point. But I'm wanting to focus on dynasty as a disqualifier, or at least a pejorative, when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

I don't buy it. 

A husband and wife rising to the top levels of their field (or fields) is very different than the younger generation of a family following an older one into leadership or public service.

George and Jeb Bush, for example, grew up with politics and public service as part of the air they breathed. It afforded them advantages, access, and a ready-made network of connections. (Substitute the Kennedy family if you prefer.) Hillary Rodham, by contrast, grew up in a middle class family with a mother whose own parents abandoned her to her grandparents (who weren't too thrilled about raising her either). Bill had a similarly modest upbringing. Remember "I still believe in a place called Hope"?

Did being the first lady of Arkansas open doors for Hillary Clinton? Undoubtedly. But her ability to leverage those opportunities came despite having had no nepotistic advantages from her youth. She walked through those doors herself (and became the first woman Senator from New York, Secretary of State, and the presumptive Democratic nominee for President in 2016). And although this is tangential to my point, she did so despite a multi-decade, borderline pathological assault on her family, her integrity, and yes, her womanhood. (Did the Clintons make serious mistakes and stumbles? Yes. Again--not about that. Write a blog post.)

I will also say--and this will bring out the pitchforks, I'm sure--that as much as we treasure our can-do, American, bootstraps, anti-elitist spirit, I don't want just anyone to be President. It's a position that anyone should aspire to, but hardly anyone has the chops to do well. In a country of 300 million, there are probably 25 people at any given time who have the skills, experience and temperament to do it. The fact that this year, one of those 25 people happens to be married to someone who's done the job before isn't some sign of ruin. (Though there are plenty of signs of ruin, this isn't one of them.) It's a testament to the fact that being President is freaking hard. Any leg-up that our next President may have, even if it's having 8 years of pillow talk as the President's spouse, is to be celebrated, not derided.

But here's the bigger reason I can't even with the hand-wringing over "dynasty." It has to do with the decisions that families everywhere make about careers and children and priorities: Does the family have the bandwidth and desire for both spouses to go full-bore with their careers? If not, which spouse's "advancement" will take priority? What are their financial resources? Will the couple have children? How many? What kind of childcare is available? How much support do they have from extended family and friends?

These decisions about who does what and when can be complicated and painful. In many families--we can probably still say "most" -- the wife/mother slows (or stops) her career for some period of time to provide primary care for the children. This has long-term financial consequences; women who leave the workforce never really catch up in terms of earning potential. But one thing's for sure: we need to be affirming of women at all levels who make the best decisions they're able to make--not sneer that their second act is somehow emblematic of a "dynasty." 

Because here's the thing about Hillary Rodham. People who knew her as a young woman before, during, and after Wellesley believed she'd be President some day. She had the intelligence, the vision, the leadership skills, and a desire to serve, a product of her Wesleyan religious faith. (That's not puff piece, that's fact.) But her journey took her to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she followed Bill as he pursued his political career. Along the way she broke all kinds of barriers, including becoming the first female partner of the Rose Law Firm.

The various calculations and conversations that led the Clintons to focus primarily on his career are known fully only to them. And yes, society at the time didn't know what to do with a strong, capable woman (and still doesn't, honestly). In some ways it made sense to wait for the world to catch up. But who knows how far and how fast she could have risen, had Bill been the one to follow her?

It's not dynasty. I don't know what to call it, except "the way it still works for women across this country."

We need better systems of support, so mothers who feel called to devote themselves to work outside the home can do so. We need affordable child care, better pay equity, and maternity policies that aren't an absolute joke. And we need to erase social stigmas that paint fathers as emasculated oddities if they decided to decelerate their careers and take primary responsibility for child-rearing.

But until we have those things, can we at least cut it out with the dynasty talk?