THE LAST TIME A PRESIDENT’S SON WENT INTO HIS FATHER’S BUSINESS, THE RESULTS WERE LESSTHANINSPIRING
The parallels are obvious. Both men are the same-named sons of single-term Presidents who had served eight years as Vice President, and both won controversial elections against candidates from Tennessee. Is George W. Bush the next John Quincy Adams? If so, it’s good news for Al Gore, since the losing candidate in the 1824 election, Gen. Andrew Jackson, got his revenge the next time around. A closer look, however, suggests that Bush is much closer in spirit to Jackson, and Gore to Adams.
A popular anti-Adams slogan in both the 1824 and 1828 campaigns was, “John Quincy Adams, he can write / Andrew Jackson, he can fight.” George W. Bush has shown no great talent for either of these things, while Al Gore, as an Army journalist in Vietnam, arguably did both. Still, the slogan highlights something that has remained true of presidential elections since our modern two-party system coalesced around Jackson: A regular guy, real or fake, will beat an egghead every time.
In his first annual address as President, John Quincy Adams lived up to his image by advocating the establishment of a national university, an astronomical observatory, and a uniform system of weights and measures. All these proposals were mocked into oblivion and gave Adams a reputation as an ivory-tower intellectual. Even Adams’s grandson called him an “idealistic philosopher,” which would not be the best way to describe George W. Bush.
By contrast, Jackson’s Inauguration Day festivities in 1829 became a near-riot, as jubilant farmers, backwoodsmen, and laborers overran the open White House. Some observers shuddered at the prospect of four years of government by a man who was little more polished than the mob that had stolen his furniture for souvenirs. Yet Jackson was easily returned to office in 1832.
George W. Bush won election with a similar rope-a-dope strategy: He let the jokes and slurs pile up, and when he held his own in debates and avoided any major gaffes, the Gore campaign had nowhere to turn. Can he achieve the same trick in office? Time will tell. He has made a good start by not being John Quincy Adams, but he now faces the much harder task of being Andrew Jackson.