Comparative American dynasties

I haven't seen it noted and it's probably arcane information of interest only to members of the hot-stove league of political observers who are always talking politics. But it's time someone mentioned that, should the president be reelected, the Bushes will have the opportunity to become the longest-serving family in the White House.

The Bushes are the only father and son to serve in the presidency since John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) each served a term. A minor detail, but historians will note it. And if George W. wins and finishes a second term, they'll probably also note that the Bush family time in the White House comes close to that of the longest-serving White House resident, Franklin D. Roosevelt – who served three full terms and a few months of a fourth.

We're only nearing the midpoint of George W.'s first term, and his reelection opportunity seems a distance away. But his political aides are already shaping strategy for that campaign. And Bush's possible Democratic opponents in '04 are beginning to make their moves.

The other morning I listened to one likely Democratic candidate – Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut – talking to journalists at a Monitor breakfast. He was detailing elements of his plan for restructuring the federal government to better cope with the terrorist threat. His approach would, he said, bring about less disruption and more efficiency than the plan pushed by the president.

The reporters who packed the Chandelier Room at the St. Regis Hotel were there mainly because Mr. Lieberman is one of the most highly regarded members of the Senate, and they were interested in his ideas on legislation. But I saw a number of journalists who cover only politics and who would not have been there had it not been that Lieberman – Al Gore's running mate on the '00 Democratic ticket – might say something that would move him closer to being an openly declared presidential candidate next time around.

Lieberman knew that the whole hour could be spent answering questions on whether he was going to enter the presidential race. So in introductory remarks he said, laughing, that here was the answer: "Maybe." And everyone laughed.

A year and a half ago I'd tackled the senator on this question in the same forum. At that point he'd only say he "wouldn't rule out" running, and that he'd get into the race only if Mr. Gore didn't run again.

At the recent breakfast, I asked him if he's still waiting on Gore, and he indicated that he is. He said he thought Gore would make his decision by the new year. But if Gore doesn't move by then? Liebermandidn't say.But he sounded – to me and to several other political reporters – like a man who has become impatient. Our conclusion: If Gore doesn't make up his mind on Jan. 1, Lieberman may push ahead.

In fact, a couple of veteran political writers said Lieberman's relationship with Gore had become "prickly" and that he may well decide to run whether Gore runs or not.

Actually, I'd thought about Gore when – doing a little research on the Presidents Adams – I learned that John Quincy Adams sulked out of the White House on Inauguration Day without greeting Gen. Andrew Jackson, who'd overwhelmingly defeated him.

Perhaps Gore didn't sulk after losing to Bush; but his retreat from the spotlight after the election wasn't done with grace.

What stuck out to me in looking back at the John Quincy Adams defeat for reelection was the man who brought it about: the most famous general the nation had had since George Washington.

Whatever Bush will face in '04, he won't have an opponent with the stature and fame of Andrew Jackson.

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