First Brookings Book Club event explores America’s political dynasties

Steve Hess and Cokie Roberts

On October 29, Brookings Senior Fellow Emeritus Stephen Hess was joined by NPR and ABC News political commentator Cokie Roberts for the inaugural Brookings Book Club, which featured a conversation about his upcoming book, “America’s Political Dynasties: From Adams to Clinton” (Brookings Institution Press).

As news broke earlier this year that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would be throwing their hats into the presidential candidate ring, Hess found himself inundated with questions about dynasties: Are they good for American politics? What makes a dynasty? Which is the most powerful? This was all the motivation he needed, as the preeminent expert on dynastic families in America, to share the stories of these families and explore what makes them so successful. The result is his updated and expanded 784-page book.

Roberts, herself a member of the Claiborne dynasty, began the discussion with a look into her own family’s role in politics. Watch as Hess explains where the Claibornes rank in the “greatness game,” his objective look at political power of dynastic families:

From there, Roberts and Hess discussed:

  • The integral role of women in each dynasty, including Abigail Adams, whose business acumen saved the family finances while her husband was away in France.
  • Why some dynasties die out—whether from turning away from public service by their own choice, or the choice of the public.
  • The legacy and history of the most famous dynasty in America, the Kennedys.
  • The difference between the Clintons, who Hess says desperately want to become a dynasty but are more of a partnership, and the Bushes, who are a dynasty and desperately do not want to be seen as one. Watch:

Forty-four families could have qualified for this book, Hess said, which is only 6 percent of the politicians in America’s history. His book covers 18 of these families, and he promised Roberts that the Claibornes will be featured in his next edition.

Hess also explained how dynasties will expand, change, and become more diverse as the presence of women and minorities in politics expands. Watch:

Watch the full event video here: 

Learn more about the book, which will officially be on sale November 16.