Raul Castro and the slippery slope of the president's idiot brother

The resignation of Fidel Castro as Cuba's President and the apparent succession by his younger brother Raul brings up the specter of America's great Fraternal Executive problem.

In America we have a time-honored tradition of our President having an less-than-exemplary brother. He is perhaps the Dorian Gray of presidential ambition, absorbing the shadow elements of the Leader of the Free World: buffoonery, drunkenness, mediocrity, and so on. Where the President is the one you want to have over for a dinner party, his Idiot Brother is the one you hit the bars with afterwards.

John F. Kennedy's Idiot Brother, Teddy, made his first big splash (sorry) one night near Chappaquiddick Island, effectively ending his presidential ambitions and quite possibly saving himself from his two older brothers' fate. My own first encounter with the President's Idiot Brother phenomenon was failed restauranteur Donald Nixon, whose mediocrity was immortalized in a National Lampoon comic strip in the early 1970s. Donald proved even more inept a criminal mastermind than his brother Dick.

The Nixon sibling was far outdone by the illustrious PIB Billy Carter, he of Billy Beer fame, perhaps the Platonic Ideal of the PIB. (For the record, Billy Beer was beyond awful.) Billy Carter's influence was so strong that both Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. removed all public records of whether or not they had ever had brothers. Billy's PIB precedent cast a shadow over American politics for twelve years, a time in which anyone considering running for public office had to take a good long look at their own blood kin.

Bill Clinton revived the tradition in the form of his half-brother Roger, although some would say Bill embodied his own fatal flaws well enough while in office. Still, Roger got himself in enough trouble to qualify for the PIB pantheon - drug possession, drunk driving, B-movie roles, and so on.

It would be too tempting to say that George W. Bush already is the idiot brother, were it not for the existence of Neil Bush, whose participation in the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s and subsequent adventures with Asian hookers placed him on the medal stand along with Billy and Teddy.

The PIB phenomenon may not be limited to American soil. The heir to the British throne, Prince William, has his own Billy Carter in the form of his younger brother, Prince Harry. In this light, Raul Castro has a difficult road ahead of him. While Cuba has been thought to have remained more resistant to American influence than most Latin American nations, time - or the tabloids - will tell.


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