National Post of Canada, Friday, July 23, 1999
JFK Jr. and the cult of dynasties
The recovery of the three bodies from John F. Kennedy Jr.'s tragic plane crash relieves the grieving relatives of worries over their loved ones' final resting place, and, it's to be hoped, of being pestered forever by cultists claiming JFK Jr. faked his own death, just like Elvis, Jim Morrison and Tupac Shakur.
The retrieval can't make the wall to wall television coverage any more boring than it's been. Since a disappearance, by definition, offered nothing to look at, all the networks were reduced to endless pans across empty ocean while various talking heads mourned our being denied the brilliant career JFK Jr. would have enjoyed in high public office. That this not particularly young man's accomplishments consisted of passing the bar exam on his third try, starting a magazine that chronicles the political opinions of starlets, and being chosen "Sexiest Man Alive" hardly slowed the speculation over which post would have most befit his puissant splendour: president, chief justice, or Pope.
Still, this orgy of televised nothingness was a vivid reminder that while the Age of Royalty is, technically, over, the public's hunger for ruling dynasties is as strong as in centuries past. You may recall the death of Princess Diana in 1997. (It was in all the papers at the time.) Many learned commentators opined that the tsunami of grief signified that royalty had outlived its time. This may have been the most illogical dogma in the history of conventional wisdom. Dynastic life is as popular as ever because it offers soap opera in the guise of affairs of state.
The women of the world idolized Princess Di not for her charity work or those other bogus rationalizations. No, they loved her because Di, unlike other female celebrities such as Madonna, didn't have to claw her way to the top of the celebrity heap. She didn't do anything to get there. She was just picked out for who she was -- young, beautiful and virginal. She was a princess from a fairy tale. And JFK Jr. was America's Prince Di.
In recent decades, this global desire for dynasties has become palpable across Southern Asia. In India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and in both Indonesia and Malaysia this year, voters have looked to the wives or daughters of martyred politicians to carry on the family business.
This phenomenon extends to the United States, too, although with less justification. There, the second leading Republican presidential candidate is the wife of Bob Dole, who was martyred in 1996 only by his own ineptness. Of course, the front-runner is named Bush. That the previous Bush and Dole campaigns were the GOP's most pathetic ever seems only to have whetted Republicans' appetites for more members of their families. Garnering even more attention is President Bill Clinton's wife in her "exploration" of a race for the Senate from New York, where she has never lived. (Her arrival apparently put on hold JFK Jr.'s own discreet inquiries into running for this Senate seat that his uncle Robert F. Kennedy, the original carpetbagger, was handed in 1964 as a condolence for JFK Sr.'s death.)
In an interesting twist on the Southern Asian pattern, Hillary-mania is due to her being martyred by her own husband. Back when Ms. Rodham-Clinton held the fate of the entire U.S. health-care system in her hands, her popularity ratings were the lowest of any presidential wife ever. After failing dismally, Mrs. Clinton then turned to traditional First Lady pursuits like "speaking out for the children," and saw her ratings rise to mediocrity.
Fortunately, her husband's cheatin' heart became public knowledge 18 months ago. Choosing to stand by her man, poor Hillary instantly became a sure-fire candidate for high office. In other words, the more Di-like Hillary becomes, passive and suffering, the more voters love her. If, though, the electorate's memories of her victimization fade before the 2000 election, never fear. She can always rebound by having her hubby give her a black eye.
The traditional shortcoming of dynastic rule, however, is regression to the genetic mean. Dynasties are founded by exceptional people, like the appalling Joe Kennedy Sr., but the genetic randomness inherent in sexual reproduction means their children frequently fail to live up to their charismatic examples. For example, Jack and Jackie Kennedy were an extraordinarily attractive couple, and JFK Jr. was equally handsome. But his sister Caroline turned out rather plain and therefore has elicited little of the hysteria that always attended her brother.
Dynasties have long revitalized their gene pools by marriages to up-and-coming commoners, like the Maria (Kennedy) Shriver-Arnold Schwarzenegger alliance. Fortunately, cloning and gene splicing will soon offer our favourite dynasties more certain means to avoid breeding duds. In the 21st century, celebrities with glamorous DNA will have both the money and the genetic raw material to ensure their offspring will dazzle us as much as they do. What a future we have to look forward to!
Steve Sailer is a businessman and writer.
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