Sunday, May 3, 2015

Royal envy

It was round the clock baby coverage yesterday as a new royal baby was born.  It seems we just can't get enough of this ongoing soap opera, with everyone speculating what the name of the new princess will be, whether Alice or Charlotte or some other name evoking the royal lineage like Victoria.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, better known as William and Kate, have decided to keep their adoring public in suspense.

What I find most amusing is that Americans are over 200 years removed from our secession from the British empire, yet still hinge on royal events the same way member countries of the Commonwealth do.  Obviously, we still have a latent desire for this long lost royalty, especially when we see such fetching princesses as Diana and Kate, who have stolen much of the glamour from the royal family, even the royal Corgies.

Since it doesn't seem Queen Elizabeth II is going to pass away any time soon, there is talk she might step down to let Charles enjoy the royal throne.  He has to be one of the longest Princes in waiting at age 66.  However, much of the public would prefer to see him step aside for William and Kate, who garner the lion's share of royal publicity.

We've had our "royal families" in the past.  When John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy and their young family were in the White House, it was seen as Camelot, but tragically this moment was all too brief.  The Obamas similarly brought a young great looking family into the White House but haven't enjoyed that same royal stature.  I guess you need a pedigree like the Kennedies, whose wealth was enormous.  So much so that JFK donated his presidential salary to charity.

Despite Republican complaints that the Obamas are scrooges when it comes to charity, tax reports show that they donate about 15 per cent of their annual income to charity, or approximately $250,000.  In presidential salary terms that is about 60 per cent.

But, royalty isn't something earned.  It is something bestowed, even during times of chaos when Victoria ascended to the thrown in 1837.  She was the daughter of Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, who had lost America, and wasn't given much chance of gaining the throne.  However, all three sons died ahead of Edward, and he had previously died as well, leaving her as the sole legitimate heir to the throne.

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the royal brood

This began a 63-year reign known as the Victorian Era, in which the United States grew rapidly and by the end of the 19th century was virtually on par economically with Great Britain.  A great accumulation of wealth took place during this time with Newport, Rhode Island, a veritable who's who of America's industrial elite. The glitter of the mansions along the coastline were designed to rival the royal estates in the United Kingdom.  This became the location of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, in which virtually anyone could amass a fortune, build a fabulous mansion and consider himself royalty.  However, best not to take someone else's wife or you may end up face down in your swimming pool.

The Kennedies sprung up during this era.  Papa Joe made his initial money as a bootlegger, before starting a political dynasty in Massachusetts that lasted well over a century.  The ascension of John F. Kennedy to the White House gave the family a royal bearing unlike any other political dynasty in America, and tragically made them targets as well.

We hear a lot of talk of political dynasties today.  The Bush political dynasty is probably the closest thing the Republican party has to the Kennedy dynasty, dating back to the 1950s when Prescott Bush parlayed his banking career into a Senate seat in Congress.  But, there has never been much excitement in the Bushes.

This is different from a husband and wife power couple like the Clintons, which we have seen several times before politically.  For instance, Woodrow Wilson's second wife, Edith, wielded considerable power in the White House, especially toward the end of her husband's second term when he was too infirmed to be in control of his administration.  But, none of these executive spouses chose to run for the oval office herself, which is what makes Hillary Clinton unique and a target as well.

The US could have chosen to stay within the empire and be a commonwealth nation like Canada, but we just couldn't accept paying taxes without due representation in the British parliament.  The Stamp Act was the last straw as far as many colonialists were concerned.  It seems Americans feel the same way about Washington these days, determined to keep their money at the state level where they feel they have better representation, or at least representation closer to their political bent.

But, that doesn't stop us from fawning over the royal family the same way the Brits do, seeming to wish we had one of our own.  You could turn the channel anywhere you wanted yesterday, and you would have still seen coverage of Kate's long anticipated delivery and her coming out with the new princess in her arms with charming Prince William at her side.

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