Coulda Been a Contender?
Two things caught my attention today. First, according to a poll of unknown accuracy, George W. Bush remains the most unpopular living U.S. President -- which isn’t a huge surprise (a lot of people don’t remember anything about Jimmy Carter or, probably, about George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton’s popularity remains high, as does his visibility). Second, ex-Governor Jeb Bush admitted that this year was “probably his time” to have run for President. It’s easy to link these two items into a flaccid cause-and-effect relationship: Jeb didn’t run for the Republican nomination because George W. is so disliked that another Bush Commander-in-Chief would have been unthinkable.
Maybe so. From 1980 to 2008 – with the exception of Clinton’s last term – a Bush has run for President or Vice President. These dynastic politics resulted in eight years’ worth of a Bush as VP and twelve years’ worth of a Bush as President of the United States, numbers that put the John and John Quincy Adams to shame. One can understand the not-to-run calculation: when the traveling circus that was the Republican nominating season began, President Obama appeared harder to beat than he does now. If the President did win a second term, the race might be more attractive in 2016, when there would be no incumbent. Further, there’d be more time for the foetor around the last Bush Presidency to dissipate, and Jeb would be only 63 years old (younger than Mitt Romney is now).
Such reasoning no doubt made a lot of sense a year ago.
Evidently, it makes less sense now.
Jeb Bush’s tone of regret this morning was palpable. Not only may he have missed his “window of opportunity,” as he so unoriginally put it; even if he’d opened that window, the winds of Tea-Party anti-establishmentarianism and far-right litmus tests might have blown him over. He admitted that he’s not sure he “would have been a successful candidate, either.”
After all, for a Republican these days, Jeb is relatively progressive on the issue of immigration, a stance that ensures xenophobic dip-stick opposition from his own party. He has committed the cardinal heresy of praising President Obama for certain initiatives, especially in education. And he’s burdened by a brother who’s as demonized by conservative Republicans as he is by progressive Democrats.
One almost feels sorry for the man – not only for his obvious sense of missed or star-crossed opportunity but also for his apparent belief that not becoming President makes him, in some important ways, a failure.
How many normal people would think that? We’re not talking about losing an election – on whatever level, that would indeed be a failure, and one that would be hard to take. But Jeb Bush has not run for President, so he did not fail in that endeavor. The sense of defeat he projected today was more existential. What came across was that he thinks he failed his own destiny.
This might be the heaviest burden of the Bush patronym. Jeb’s own family always called him the ‘smart’ one and thought he would be President before, or instead of, George W. (How galling this must have been to Jeb’s older brother is barely conceivable; how it might have influenced some Presidential decisions [war in Iraq, anyone?] is a matter of painful speculation.) Jeb’s tenure as Florida’s Governor was an overall success. Jeb talks like an educated citizen, eschewing the ersatz hick-shtick embraced by his older brother (even though it was George W. who went to Yale and Jeb who went to the University of Texas . . . reverse elitism to the max), and he even speaks unembarrassing Spanish. He’s largely unscathed by the savings & loan and oil influence scandals that have plagued other members of his family; there’s some tarnish about his relationship with Lehman Brothers, but nothing that’s been elevated to indictable status. He hasn’t been tagged in a sex scandal, and he hasn’t built houses with car elevators.
What more could Jeb Bush have done to pave his Presidential road? A road already asphalted by generations of Bush political and corporate (mainly oil) connections?
What’s odd is that Jeb’s appearance on CBS This Morning was so naked, without really being confessional. Not only did he make his own disappointment clear. That very disappointment also indicated that he doesn’t think much of this year’s actual nominee, an impression buttressed by Jeb’s clear assertion that he would not under any circumstances be Mitt Romney’s Vice President.
As anyone who’s read my blogs knows, I’m a life-long (if somewhat phlegmatic, and I hope not completely doctrinaire) Democrat. In a partisan way, I’m glad Jeb Bush is not the Republican nominee for President: he’s a much more skilled politician than is Mitt Romney, and he would probably have wider appeal in the upcoming general election. In a non-partisan way, I’m somewhat sad. Jeb Bush probably would have made a decent president: conservative, yes, but pragmatic and experienced in the ways of governance, which also means that he wouldn’t consider ‘government’ as the ipso facto enemy. The very privilege that comes with the Bush legacy might have made Jeb relatively impervious to Tea-Party demands.
Well, it’s not going to happen, at least not this year. And as a supporter of Barack Obama, I’m relieved that it’s not. Even so, maybe Jeb Bush could have been a contender. But unlike Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, not being a contender does not make him a bum.
[Note #1: In my blogs, I’ve mostly referred to political figures by their honorifics, as my own small protest against the current incivility of current political discourse. The fact that I’m talking about multiple Bushes dictated the use of first names. No disrespect is intended.
Note #2: For a week, I’ve been trying to find something to write about the Wisconsin recall election. Mission: ABORTED. I have no insights whatsoever, and certainly nothing original to say. I do have a general feeling of disappointment, and increased feelings of outrage and dismay about the Citizens United decision. But such feelings are hardly novel, so (for now) I retreat into blog-silence on the subject.]