03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Buck Stops Here, Unless You Marry It (Or Were Sired By It, Or Are Its Cousin...)

I read with interest Christopher Buckley's comment this weekend on the "American Idea," as inspired by the Atlantic's 150th anniversary celebration and excuse for performance art. It meandered a bit, but as far as I could gather, it seemed that Mr. Buckley had a problem with this American idea: That relatives of famous/important people could themselves ascend to fame/importance, like so:

[I]t's an American idea I'm finding funny -- that you can evolve from First Lady to Chief Executive.


Now, I admit electing sons of presidents has turned out to be a dicey proposition. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. This is presidential succession as Groundhog Day.

Think about it. For the past 26 years, we've had a Bush or a Clinton in the White House. If Hillary gets the ball into the endzone -- dodging all those illegal aliens with drivers' licenses -- and has two terms, it'll be 34 years. One third of a century. By which time Chelsea will be old enough to run against Jenna.

We'll leave aside the ironies in this rail against nepotism for the moment, because but first of all, Buckley can't add: George Herbert Walker Bush took office on January 20, 1989, which means that for the past 18 3/4 years there's been a Bush or a Clinton in the White House. If Hillary wins and serves two terms, it will be 28 years (3 4-year terms by a Bush, 4 4-year terms by a Clinton). Gee, I wonder if he learned those math skills at the Portsmouth Abbey School, an exclusive New England prep school whose famous alumni include Robert and Ted Kennedy — those are super-easy to get into no matter who your family is! Or maybe he learned 'em at Yale, where he was a member of the Skull & Bones society — just like his father, William F. Buckley. (Apparently Skull & Bones is super-easy for anyone to get into, too.)

Now, faulty math aside, I would never suggest that someone like Christopher Buckley had only achieved his success by dint of his family connections. Sure, it helps to have wealthy, connected parents greasing your way through the upper echelons of society, but Thank You For Smoking didn't write itself. Neither did his other ten books. I have no problem giving credit where it's due — so why can't Buckley? If he doesn't like Hillary Clinton, fine — he's free to support his argument by trashing her policies, platforms, and record. But to suggest that she's the Democratic frontrunner ONLY because she was First Lady is glib and disingenuous (NB: That's the gist; Buckley doesn't explicitly suggest that — he doesn't actually suggest much, if you read the piece. It's very free-associative).

I will say, though, that there is more than a smack of sexism in his bemusement that one could "evolve from First Lady to Chief Executive." Really? Is it strange that one could evolve from, say, Senator to Chief Executive? (Well, given the historical record, actually, yes, but it's certainly not been strange for people to try.) Is it odd that a highly-accomplished woman with a long record of government service followed by eight years of immersion in the highest levels of government followed by 7 years of experience in the Senate should consider herself qualified to seek that office? Come on, Chris, not even a little love for a fellow Yalie? (We know Hil wasn't a legacy, but c'mon!) What part of her record and credentials strikes you as so funny — the fact that part of it was about being someone's wife? Sorry, William F. Buckley's son, but that's lame.

You don't have to be voting for Hillary — heck, I'm not* — to want her to be assessed fairly — on the merits, good and bad — like any other candidate. It's true, a candidate's background is a big part of his (or her) story — Obama, Giuliani, Dodd, Romeny, Edwards, all of 'em — but it's just one part of the whole. Assessing that whole both fairly and in context serves not only the candidate, but the process. We're sure that's an idea that would make Christopher Buckley's father proud. Though he's probably not voting for Hillary, either.

p.s. Er, we see that this is Buckley's very first blog post on HuffPo. Welcome!

Christopher Buckley: The Funniest Thing About the American Idea

*I can't vote for anyone, I'm Canadian — just like half of Buckley's lineage. Canadians, they're everywhere. Maybe that's the new American idea, bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha! Er, just kidding. Now go play with your pretend money.