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Tuesday, March 28, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 120

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Presidency: more than just a birthright 

R. Alex Whitlock

Though I am generally pleased with the Democratic and Republican nominees for president -- we could do a lot worse -- it has had one unfortunate side effect. Over and over again, people have repeated the myth that the presidency in America is like royalty in Britain, because both involve a sense of entitlement. Family name and heritage matter more than anything else.

Indeed, judging from the nominees, it's not hard to see why people think this way. George W. Bush is, after all, the son of a former president and the grandson of a senator. Al Gore is the son of a senator himself. They were both children of privilege whose success could not have been predicted by their mediocre scholastic achievements and must be partially attributed to their family name.

It's not much of a stretch to say these men are only where they are because of their family background and thus America, like England, has a sense of dynasty and royalty of its own.

It's a reasonable conclusion based on that selective set of facts, but it's wrong. This election, contrary to the norm, is an aberration. A brief look at our previous presidents will prove it.

Bill Clinton was certainly not born of royal blood. He may not have grown up starving, but his childhood was certainly not one you would associate with a future president. His step-father was an abusive alcoholic and his family life was in constant disarray. At some point, young Bill Clinton decided that he was going to be president and worked tirelessly until he got there.

Bob Dole and Colin Powell were never elected president, but the former was his party's nominee and the latter arguably could have taken the presidency if he had wanted it badly enough. Dole was a product of a lower-middle-class farm family at a time when life wasn't easy in Kansas. Powell was born in urban America and is precisely the type of man who would have proved that anyone could grow up to be president with sufficient preparation.

Ronald Reagan was the son of a shoe salesman. Richard Nixon was the son of a grocer. Lyndon Johnson, though the son of a state legislator, still grew up poor along the Pernales River in Texas. Dwight Eisenhower's family worked in a creamery and was also poor.

That's not to say that every president has been poor. Certainly, the elder George Bush and John F. Kennedy never went hungry. However, interestingly enough, their opponents were not similarly wealthy. Bush ran against Michael Dukakis, the son of two Greek immigrants, and Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon, who as previously mentioned was not a child of wealth. The only other president who led a comfortable childhood is Gerald Ford, who was never elected and lost to Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer.

Of the last nine presidents that I've gone through, only two had pedigrees and one came from an upper-middle-class household. To one degree or another, the remaining six came from middle-class or lower-class households.

This refutation may not do much good, though, as it's all too convenient for some who generally like to disdain America and its meritocracy to point to our two current candidates and claim that only children of privilege can be president.

Whitlock, a junior IST major, is giddy at the fact that his SAT scores and grades are better than both parties' nominees. He, too, can grow up to be president some day and can be reached at me@pariahsight.8m.com.

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