Americans don’t normally take much notice of Argentine elections. But they did notice when Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, wife of President Nestor Kirchner, was elected to succeed him last Sunday, ensuring not just a co-presidency, but the prospect of alternating presidencies as far as the eye can see.
Of course, spousal succession, while new to the United States, is hardly new to Argentina. Their tradition of wifely power begins, of course, with Eva, who despite the absence of any constitutional title, had queenly powers. The real deal, however, was Isabel, Juan Peron’s next (and third and last) wife, who succeeded him as president in 1974. She was a cabaret dancer that Peron picked up in a Panamanian nightclub, the Peronist equivalent of winning the New Hampshire primary. Not surprisingly, her presidency was one of the most catastrophic in Argentine history.
The Kirchners are Peronists as well, but Cristina is no Isabelita. She is a highly accomplished person — student activist, lawyer, senator, and, by some accounts, the more formidable figure in this two-person political partnership. Sound familiar? Like Hillary Clinton, she too met her husband in law school, was instrumental in his ascent to the presidency, and had long planned with her husband an eventual alternation of power.
The Argentine example is a pretty vivid dramatization of the Clintons’ intentions — and of the cloud hovering over the current Clinton candidacy.
The problem is Bill. But not the way it is usually understood, i.e., the sex scandal waiting to happen. There is that, of course. But there are deeper, more subtle considerations that would arise even if the man — do the thought experiment — were as self-disciplined as Nestor Kirchner.
First, for all of their worship of Diana and the Kennedys, Americans are instinctively republican and suspicious of dynastic politics. A vote for Hillary is a vote for the last entry of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton quarter century.
We’ve had just two father-son presidencies in the 230 years of the republic, and the first (the Adams family) had the son taking over 24 years after the father, and just one year before the father’s death. The Bush succession is more anomalous with only eight years separating the two presidencies, a proximity that has launched a thousand Maureen Dowd ruminations on the hidden furies driving Oedipus Prez.