"Americans have a dangerous fondness for monarchy," writes the columnist known as "Lexington" in London-based Economist magazine. Judging by our fawning reception of Queen Elizabeth II last week, he has a point.

Kept by the British people as the world's most expensive pets, in America the royals are rich relations whose rare visits we are flattered as puppy dogs to receive, like when the most popular girl in school accidentally exchanges polite pleasantries with a pimply boy from physics class.

We have always been small "r" republicans in my family, with a healthy North-England Labour Party disdain for all things queenly and kingly. Yet even in the union halls of Newcastle, there is a certain niggling affection for the queen herself, possibly akin to the respect paid to a lucky lottery winner. You gotta hand it to her - rarely in life do you come upon someone so assiduously devoted to not screwing up. Ramrod careful as she is, you'd think the English were still in the practice of beheading their leaders, as they did in 1649.

On my list of favorite presidents, George W. Bush ranks somewhere down below Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan, but I'm sure he'll be relieved to know that I think his winking at the queen was somewhat cool. The whole situation is worthy of a wink, perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that they are both mediocre people somehow thrust to the top of their respective heaps by the whims of genealogy and fate.

The prospect of a Bush followed by a Clinton followed by a Bush followed by a Clinton thrills me not at all. As Lexington observed last week, "There is nothing inherently wrong with the children or wives of politicians seeking high office, but there is definitely something wrong when people start treating them as heirs to the throne rather than candidates."

Perpetuation of political dynasties threatens to turn our country into one where only people of a certain breeding can hope to be president, where having a former president in your family serves as a de facto litmus test for ability to do the job.

At the same time, The Washington Post reported Thursday that the current field of presidential candidates has a collective fortune of at least a quarter-billion dollars. Like the current president's father, who had no idea what a gallon of milk cost, none of these millionaires has more than a distant memory of what it is like to make ends meet as an ordinary American.

"The dynastification of its political life also points to a deeper problem: the fact that America is producing a quasi-hereditary political elite, cocooned in a world of wealth and privilege and utterly divorced from most people's lives," Lexington cautions.

It made for messy and frequently bloody succession fights, but the Anglo-Saxons who founded modern England after the fall of Rome firmly rejected automatically elevating a ruler's children to the throne. Our own Constitution was grounded in this tradition of merit-based promotion based on the consent of average citizens.

Abraham Lincoln is near the top of every list of our greatest leaders and even those who shun the study of history readily recall it was his common origins that made him great. No amount of Texas brush-clearing will ever turn George W. Bush from a rich slacker into a hard-working man of the people.

In America and Britain alike, we need to remember heroes like King Alfred the Great. All English schoolchildren know him well for accidentally allowing a cowherd wife's rye cakes to burn while he was hiding out in disguise and rallying his people during a Viking invasion. He humbly absorbed her harsh scolding and then richly rewarded her and her husband after regaining the kingdom. Among many worthy accomplishments, he dedicated half the kingdom's revenue to free public education, while greatly strengthening the navy to forestall future Viking attacks.

Contrast this with the current queen, who rewarded a presidential wink with steely and humorless contempt. Even a bad president is preferable to a monarch. I just hope the next president we select has much more in common with cowherds than with queens.

- M.S.W.

Matt Winters is the publisher of the Chinook Observer.

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