In a few hours from now, Hillary Clinton will officially launch her campaign to become the Democratic Party’s nominee in next year’s American presidential election. Yes, she did formally announce she was running two months ago, through a Youtube video, but then reruns aren’t just for serials but also for soapbox operas.
The venue she has chosen for her opening oration, after two months of a listening tour, is a curious strip of land in New York City — Roosevelt Island. It’s a schizophrenic place — nestled in the East River, between Manhattan, the shimmering skyscraped symbol of America, and Queens, where English is often the second language. It falls within the boundaries of the borough of Manhattan but is not connected by road with it; the subway and an overhead cable car, called the tram, are the only direct links, besides a bridge to Queens. If you’re Hillary Clinton, of course, you charter a flotilla to get across the river.
I lived on Roosevelt Island for five years, and I think part of Clinton’s reasoning for the choice of location is that it offers a suburban vibe within the metropolis. In fact, it’s the only part of the New York borough of Manhattan that actually has a Main Street.
Clinton, of course, in crossing the river also wants to channel Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR, the 32nd American President, after whom the Island is named. The initiator of welfare schemes like Social Security, FDR, like Hillary’s husband 50 years later, was also said to have spread the presidential love in other ways. He would never have survived the social media age. Aptly, Roosevelt Island was also once called Welfare Island and at various times, has been infamous for housing patients with communicable diseases and a lunatic asylum. Perhaps Hillary wants to call attention, subliminally, to the Republican field of presidential aspirants which may have crossed 621 by the time this appears in print.
Also, according to History.com, Roosevelt was related to as many as 11 American presidents, including distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt, who also happened to be FDR’s wife’s uncle. That could be another Hillary wink, even as one of her primary opponents, former Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley recently said, “The presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families.” The other reference, obviously, is to Jeb Bush, a Republican aspirant and former governor of Florida.
Americans are given to contempt for dynasties, since they rejected a monarch at Independence. They can also condescendingly contemplate such familial failings in regions like South Asia. But now they have to contend with the dawn of their own age of dynasties.
In fact, 200 years back, when John Quincy Adams became the sixth president of the US, he was the first and till this century, last direct relative of another president — John Adams, the second president. The Kennedy clan came closest, but Camelot never survived the calamities it suffered. It was a tragic case of heir today, gone tomorrow. It took George W Bush’s inauguration in 2001 to bring a sense of succession into the country.
Hillary’s appearance at Roosevelt Island’s Four Freedoms Park is likely to be welfare-driven, riffing, for instance, on raising the minimum wage. After all, since the royal drubbing Barack Obama inflicted upon her in 2008, she wants to show her common touch, even if that comes with being able to touch Qatari emirs and Russian oligarchs for uncommonly generous helpings into the family Foundation, or talking their way into millions as she and Bill Clinton accepted hefty fees for speaking engagements. Hillary only recently joined the social network, LinkedIn, but left the 2008 campaign off her profile. Clearly, she already has the links she needs.
There’s a new breed of royalty taking the reins in America. Whether you would describe it as winning the genetic lottery or suffering from a congenital condition is your choice. They may not be queens or kings, but they can proclaim: “Yes, We Kin!”
(Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs. The views expressed by the author are personal.)