Our free federal republic, once the envy of the world, is sinking ever further into the decadence of empire. We can scarcely call “republican” a regime in which oligarchical judges contravene law, common sense, and majority’ will, and yet are obeyed by 270 million “citizens” with barely a murmur; in which the media of education and information contract steadily into a uniform unthinking orthodoxy of ruler worship; in which artificial aristocracies of special privilege have become steadily more entrenched.

The best evidence of the decay of the Founding Fathers’ republican virtues and principles is found in our two major presidential candidates. For the first time, the American people are presented with a choice between two princes of the imperial blood.

From the disappearance of the genuine aristocracy of the founding generation until today, at least one presidential candidate (and usually both) has been a self-made man—that is, someone born of humble origins who has risen to high public office by achievement or, at least, by long and prominent service to the commonwealth. Think of the origins of Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Johnson, Ford, Reagan, Dole, Clinton. In fact, that one could be born in a log cabin and aspire to the White House was long regarded as the benchmark of American democracy.

But look at the contenders today: two preppie Ivy Leaguers born into powerful political families. Bush is the son of a president, and Gore, the son of a longtime powerful senator with insider connections to international capital.

There is little difference between them except, perhaps, that one appeals to jocks and the other to nerds. One is a presidential candidate from Connecticut with a running mate from the District of Columbia, while the other is from the District of Columbia with a running mate from Connecticut.

It seems that someone can now become president solely by virtue of being the son of a president—even a president who was rejected by the electorate. Indeed, the president voted out by the people is, along with his lackeys, set to return to power in his son’s entourage.

The two pretenders, it is true, have been elected to public offices; they would not be a step from the White House if they had not been. But neither would have held any public office if he hadn’t inherited his position. Both are of mediocre talent. Neither has any substantial accomplishment to his credit or any vision that could be called statesmanlike. They are celebrities, which someone once defined as people who are famous for being famous.

They do not disagree more than marginally on anything that really counts; Both are dedicated to cultivating the metastasizing empire at home and abroad. We are left with the right to cheer for the prince of our choice and to acclaim one (and his entourage) into power.