Yesterday, Chatterbox pointed out that this year’s presidential race is between two Juniors. Albert A. Gore Jr., is a by-the-book Junior. George W. Bush may not meet everyone’s formal definition of a Junior, because his father’s middle initials include an “H.” that wasn’t passed on to the son. This tedious fact two years ago prompted Evan Smith to write a Texas Monthly article decrying members of the national media who call Dubya a Junior. Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays, authors of The Language of Names, took the same fundamentalist position yesterday when Chatterbox phoned them. Today, however, Bernays reports that she’s changed her mind:
I looked up “junior” in the new American Heritage Dictionary and apparently you’re correct. It says that you’re a junior if you have the same given (that is, first) name as your father. My apologies for being a (mistaken) legalist.
Bernays and Kaplan believe that naming your child after yourself is a bad business. Chatterbox seconds that, though perhaps he should take this opportunity to reassure the richest man in the world, who happens to be Chatterbox’s employer, that no disrespect is intended toward either him or his father, both of them named Bill. (This might also be a prudent moment to remind readers of Bernays and Kaplan’s point that those Juniors who don’t end up in the nuthouse tend to be extremely successful.) Chatterbox takes a somewhat dimmer view of Al Gore for Junioring (or, if you prefer, Thirding) his own first-born son during an epoch when feminism and a general societal preference for greater social equality cast more suspicion on such patriarchal gestures. Interestingly, Gore’s own Earth in the Balance includes a heavy-handed denunciation of the father-centered family (click here to read it). The passage is sometimes quoted by journalists trying to puzzle out Gore’s own Oliver Barrett-like resentment of his father. But we digress.
Chatterbox’s purpose today is to examine the track record for the previous 14 U.S. presidents (about a third of the total) who shared a first name with their father. Either Al Gore or George W. Bush will be the 15th. Chatterbox has culled the names from “Birth Order and Paternal Namesake As Predictors of Affiliation With Predecessor by Presidents of the United States,” a paper published by Herbert Barry III–a Junior himself and a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Pittsburgh–in the Autumn 1979 issue of the journal Political Psychology.
Here (in chronological order) is the full list of presidents who were Juniors:
John Quincy Adams
Rutherford B. Hayes
Dwight D. Eisenhower
How does this cohort rate, compared to the full wagonload of 41? Taken together, they’re a bland lot. Chatterbox’s yardstick is Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s 1996 “Rating the Presidents” poll of American historians, which was first published in the New York Times Magazine and later appeared in expanded form in the Summer 1997 Political Science Quarterly. (You can get it by clicking here, but you’ll have to pay 10 bucks for it.) In Schlesinger’s survey, three presidents–Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt–were rated “great.” None of them was a Junior. Six presidents were rated “near great,” two of whom (Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt) were Juniors. That’s a respectable showing. Seven presidents were rated “high average,” three of whom (John Adams, McKinley, Eisenhower) were Juniors. That’s a more than respectable showing. Twelve presidents were rated “average,” six of whom (Madison, John Quincy Adams, Hayes, Ford, Carter, Clinton) were Juniors. That gives the game away: The presidential Juniors are disproportionately average.
OK, now let’s winnow this list down to Juniors who have a little more in common with Al Gore and George W. Bush–Juniors who are first-born sons, as opposed to later sons. (Let’s call them Jirstborns.) That leaves eight–the two Adamses, Madison, Buchanan, Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge, Ford, and Carter. Officially, Clinton should be on this list, too. Unofficially, though, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post made a pretty convincing case in 1993 that Clinton’s father, William J. Blythe, sired a son, Henry “Leon” Ritzenthaler, prior to Clinton’s birth (though not by Clinton’s mother). This would make Clinton a later son named after his father. Anyway, the eight presidential Jirstborns are distributed among the various categories in proportions that more closely match all 41 presidents. That is, they’re average, but not too average.
The main reason Chatterbox brings up Jirstborns is that Barry’s Political Psychology paper has a conclusion that’s heartening for Gore supporters. According to Barry, all but one of the Jirstborns who became president were affiliated with the party that held power immediately prior to their becoming president. (Chatterbox would say “getting elected president,” but Ford was never elected.) Barry suggests this is because Jirstborns are usually relentless goody-goods–introspective and reserved rather than backslapping mixer-uppers. Think of them as Juniors on speed. Even Jimmy Carter, the sole Jirstborn who became president in spite of being affiliated with the party that was out of power, is a goody-good. It’s easy to argue that Carter’s election was the anomalous instance where the party in power was so discredited (by Watergate) that the usual goody-good career imperatives were reversed. This year, of course, no one will dispute that the goody-good candidate is Al Gore, who is lucky enough to be the second-highest ranking official in the administration he hopes to succeed. Barry’s Law would seem to dictate that Dubya, who is betraying his Jirstborn patrimony by running against the party in power, will lose. Unfortunately, nobody would ever accuse Dubya of being a goody-good. “His personality developed in a way that is typical of a later-born child rather than a first-born child,” Barry observes in a paper he is set to deliver Oct. 28 in New York. This may be Barry’s way of fortifying his thesis against the roughly even chance that the Jirstborn George W. Bush will win.