Two thousand and twelve has turned out to be a banner year for succession, at least as far as Asia is concerned. The Times recently reported on the politics of the ascent of China’s new leader Xi Jinping, a follower of the former president Jiang Zemin (“How Crash Cover-Up Altered China’s Succession,” Dec. 4). Before Xi Jinping’s rise, it had looked like one of the followers of the outgoing president, Hu Jintao, might be in the running, but then with the cover-up of the death of Ling Gu, the 23-year-old son of one of Hu Jintao’s close advisers, Ling Jihua, in a Ferrari accident (in which a young woman was killed and another seriously injured), the bottom fellow out of Hu Jintao’s dynastic aspirations.
North Korea saw a less complex though no less dramatic rise to power of Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il who triumphed over his half-brother Kim Jong-nam in 2011 and consolidated his power in 2012. Kim Jong-nam, by the way, didn’t crash any Ferraris or have advisers whose children did. North Korea remains the country cousin to its rich neighbor, and dignitaries still travel around in l970s Lincoln Town Cars (“Deeply Hated, but Present: A U.S. Touch at Kim’s End,” The Times, Dec. 28, 2011), but he ran afoul of the powers that be when he was found to have gone AWOL to Toyko’s Disney World.
Interestingly, Disney figures seem to be a bit of an obsession for the North Korean elite, as evidenced by the appearance of Kim Jong-un on television in the company of Minnie Mouse (“On North Korean TV, a Dash of (Unapproved) Disney Magic,” The Times, July 9) and the current regime’s Mouse That Roared view of international politics. Along with the Town Cars, the regime also appears to have adopted Avis’s “We Try Harder” campaign going back to l962 (the year of the Cuban missile crisis), as the successful launch of a missile and 200-pound earth-surveillance satellite, after April’s humiliating failure, attests (“After Rocket Launching, a Call for New Sanctions,” The Times, Dec. 12).
Still, everyone thinks Kim Jong-un is the spitting image of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, who is revered as a deity, and with his stylish new wife, Ri Sol-ju, the current regime is reminiscent of the rise of Camelot described in David Nasaw’s recent “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.”
Here at home, of course, Barack Obama succeeded and the Clintons have become the avant-garde of dynastic politics. Yes, we’ve had hereditary lines like the Roosevelts and the Bushes, but in Hillary Clinton we have a possibility of the first husband and wife rulers in the history of the United States. When you think of it, in the history of civilization, only royalty have taken such an enlightened view of women’s role in dynastic building. Catherine the Great and Queen Victoria rose to power when the rights of women were still just a twinkle in democracy’s eye.
The Kennedys were felled by tragedy, but now with the dawn of another year a new generation of former and incumbent first ladies holds the hope that America too might have its House of Windsor. Michelle Obama’s speech was one of the highlights of the Democratic Convention and perhaps Barack, Malia, Sasha, and their Portuguese water dog, Bo, will be able to stay on, if Michelle challenges Hillary Clinton for the presidency.
With the Republican Party in complete and hopeless disarray, the chances of the House becoming Democratic and our wobbly democracy becoming a house (like Windsor or Tudor) make anything possible as we move into 2013. Instead of being split down party lines, the next presidential race could very well be like one of those old-fashioned battles among royal lines for the throne, the Obamas versus the Clintons, say. The only question is, would Hillary Clinton accept a vice presidential slot in the event that the House of Obama prevails over the House of Clinton and Michelle wins the Democratic nomination for president?
Francis Levy, who lives in Manhattan and Wainscott, is the author of the novels “Erotomania: A Romance” and “Seven Days in Rio.” He blogs at TheScreamingPope.com and on The Huffington Post.