Sunday, January 21, 2007

Beating Around the (Other) Bush

Oh, please, Dear God, NOOOO.....

Here's a little lighthearted romp through Hell, courtesy of the Washington Post (italics are, as usual, mine):

What Would Jeb Do?

By S.V. Date
Sunday, January 21, 2007; B01

Tuesday would have marked his sixth State of the Union address -- and it might have been his best yet.

I suppose we should thank Lawton Chiles for that.

The nation is in great shape, President Jeb Bush would have reported: record tax cuts propelling the economy to greater heights; a revolutionary school-vouchers program for the first time granting low-income parents real education choices; and, five years after the capture of Osama bin Laden, the final 20,000 U.S. troops returning home from Iraq.

Uh huh. And the Great Flying Pink Unicorn smiled benevolently down.

The president would break into his fluent Spanish and wave at his Mexican-born wife, Columba, gazing at him from the balcony. The cameras would settle on their eldest, George P. Bush, 30, and commentators would speculate on whether the dashing lawyer would soon run for Congress and carry on the Bush dynasty.

While the ultra-right racists who are the GOP's actual backbone commit mass suicide, right?

Yet contrary to the best-laid plans of the Bush family, it won't be John Ellis "Jeb" Bush addressing the nation this week, all because of that disastrous November Tuesday a dozen years ago. That was the day Jeb -- the articulate and handsome workaholic, the one who as a boy spoke of his White House ambitions, and the one the Bush family counted on to avenge the Great Usurpation of 1992 -- narrowly lost his bid to be governor of Florida. Meanwhile, his older brother George W. had overcome long odds and won the Texas governorship, putting George an insurmountable step ahead of Jeb in the race for the presidency.

"Great Usurpation?" Is that what the Bushes call the electoral process? Seems someone's a bit monarchist (excuse me, "unitary executive") in their outlook. And as for George winning while Jeb lost - well, every pig finds an acorn at least once in his life.

But what if Jeb had won the Florida governorship in 1994, been reelected and then taken the White House in 2000? How would the nation be different? What sort of State of the Union would he deliver this week?

And what if I'd hit the lottery last night?

This is more than an exercise in alternative history.

This is an exercise in fellatio.

Because of Florida's term limits, Jeb stepped down as governor three weeks ago, but he should not be counted out of the national political scene. I've covered Jeb Bush for eight years as a state capital reporter, and I'm convinced that he remains the GOP conservative wing's best hope for a post-Iraq comeback. And his own political ambitions burn as brightly as ever. Perhaps 2012 or 2016 or -- why not? -- maybe even 2008, if things break right.

Jeb and George W. are seven years apart but have much in common. Both are stubborn. Both appear convinced that anything that government does the private sector can do better. Both are enamored of tax cuts. And both seem to believe that voters don't have the right to observe the workings of their administrations and should simply trust them to do the right thing. However, the two display real differences on issues spanning crisis management, fiscal policy, foreign policy and, perhaps most important, personal style. Jeb pays much more attention to detail than his brother, and is far more dogged and competent in advancing his agenda -- meaning that a Jeb presidency over the past seven years would have been distinct from his brother's -- and a future one would be as well.

You forget - they both have the same parents; the same bloodless, soulless parents.

Look first to the home front. On key domestic policy issues such as tax cuts and education reform, Jeb probably would have mirrored his brother's instincts and proposals, though he might have displayed greater staying power in seeing them through. Under President Jeb, the nation still would have had large federal tax cuts, skewed heavily toward the rich -- or the "risk takers" and "job creators," in Bush family parlance. In Florida, he reduced taxes by $12.2 billion over his eight years, with more than half of that going to the wealthiest 4.5 percent of the population. That saved the average risk taker more than $1,500 a year by the time Jeb left office. And much as President George W. Bush cites tax cuts as the explanation for any positive economic results, Gov. Jeb Bush says that his tax cuts created jobs in Florida and gave us the best economy in the country. (In reality, Jeb had the lowest job-creation rate of any Florida governor dating to 1971.)

On education, Jeb quickly pushed into law a testing program, just as his brother did in Texas and later nationally through No Child Left Behind. Unlike George W., however, Jeb succeeded in introducing the nation's first statewide school-vouchers program. The results are unclear: Jeb says that students who used vouchers to attend private schools received better educations than they had been getting in public schools. But all we know is that the vast majority of such schoolchildren received religious educations at the public's expense. Gov. Bush refused to release the scores for the few voucher children who had to take the public-school standardized test, so whether their educations were superior or awful remains anyone's guess.

One recent article stated that there is no difference in the test scores for private, public and home-schooled kids - except that the home-schoolers lack social skills that would make them ardent Young Republican Sociopaths.

For a brief period, George W. sought to include school vouchers in NCLB, but he eventually relented; Jeb, I believe, would never have let it drop. Indeed, much more than his older brother, Jeb seems to take pleasure in the business of governing, as opposed to just campaigning. Whereas George W. claims to stay at 30,000 feet and see the big picture, Jeb is all about the details. He kept long hours as governor, took home fat binders to study each night and knew enough about policy matters to make detailed and cogent arguments for his ideas. It's hard to imagine a President Jeb countenancing the explosion of pork-barrel earmarks in the federal budget the way his brother did, for example. During his eight years as governor, Jeb took the time to slash thousands of such projects out of Florida state budgets, most of them inserted by Republican lawmakers.

So he's actually Bill Clinton, but with better hair and a shorter penis?

His willingness to delve into the nitty gritty probably would have made Jeb a radically different commander in chief than his brother during one of the most dramatic and tragic events of the Bush presidency: Hurricane Katrina.

When a spate of hurricanes struck Florida in the late summer of 2004, Jeb responded quickly. He didn't dream up schemes to give hurricane victims private-school vouchers for their children. He didn't try to privatize disaster response. Instead, he worked on obvious, sensible things: He implemented an effective and thorough evacuation, and then came in quickly with massive assistance, including search-and-rescue teams, water, ice, food, law enforcement -- in more or less that order.

This was Jeb's shining, nonpartisan leadership moment in Florida and, the tragedy notwithstanding, he relished the challenge. He loves to compete, and standing up to a category four or five storm is the ultimate challenge a Florida governor can face. In the state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center on the southern edge of Tallahassee, with its giant display screens and dozens of computers, Jeb was in his element, walking around, getting status reports about how many shelters were open, effortlessly issuing commands without worrying about obstructionist judges or meddlesome state legislators.

Had Jeb been president in the days before Katrina struck, he would have known that such a huge storm threatened catastrophe for New Orleans. He would have known that the levees could break -- and he would have made sure that the city and state governments got all the help they needed. Jeb would not have undermined the Federal Emergency Management Agency with cronyism and incompetence. He would have "federalized" Katrina while the storm was still in the Gulf, taking over the evacuation and even using the military to empty the Lower Ninth Ward ahead of the storm, if that's what it took.

"I have learned a lot during my tenure as governor," Jeb told the Pensacola News Journal during that hurricane season. "One is when to be partisan and when not to be. Storms don't hit just Rs and Ds or independents. They're all Floridians."

I believe Jeb was being candid. He would have responded just as vigorously if the storm had struck a predominantly black, poor and entirely Democratic town as he did when it hit Republican-rich cities such as Pensacola, Punta Gorda and Stuart. A poor Florida city is still a Florida city, and to let a hurricane kill hundreds of Floridians, or to allow it to destroy a town without quickly rebuilding, is to let the hurricane defeat him. Jeb Bush doesn't do defeat.

One cannot deny that Florida's emergency preparedness is/was superior to Louisiana's; however, I recall Jeb's reaction to the people of Miami when Hurricane Wilma dropped by via the back door - um, "You need to meet us halfway and do things for yourself," I believe it was.

That leads to the key question of a Jeb Bush presidency. In public, of course, Jeb has supported his brother's decision to invade Iraq. "It's tough," he said in a recent interview with "Thank God the president has been resolute, because it's not a popular war." But would Jeb have made the same choice? Would his state of the union speech this week have to include a lengthy discussion of a war in Iraq gone horribly wrong?

Unlike George, who ridiculed his classmates at Yale University for opposing the Vietnam War but then sought refuge in the National Guard, Jeb was troubled enough by that war that, according to his mother in a 1984 interview, he considered registering as a conscientious objector. Ultimately, he chose not to hurt his father's political career -- at the time, George H.W. Bush was President Richard M. Nixon's ambassador to the United Nations -- and registered for the draft. He was never called. "I had no compelling reason to go to Vietnam" he told the Miami Herald in 1994.

But he has grown more hawkish over time. Jeb Bush was a 1997 signatory to the Project for the New American Century, the neoconservative blueprint for a more "Reaganite" foreign policy. And his mother, Barbara, recalls in her memoirs a 1990 dinner gathering with President George H.W. Bush, their four sons and Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak. At the time, the president was pondering how to handle Saddam Hussein, who had invaded Kuwait, and Jeb (then 37) agreed with his brothers that their father should deal with Hussein harshly.

Yet Jeb did not sign on to PNAC's 1998 call to invade Iraq and depose Hussein. He also likes and respects former secretary of state Colin L. Powell; perhaps Jeb would have followed the "Powell Doctrine" in Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, pursuing the Taliban and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden more zealously and using overwhelming force. With about 300,000 troops stabilizing Afghanistan, Iraq might not have become the imperative that it became under George W.

If his minders, handlers and puppeteers had allowed him to.

Finally, there is a chance that Jeb's more internationally minded background -- he majored in Latin American studies in college and later lived in Venezuela for two years as a young bank officer -- might have made him open to a nuanced, more even-handed foreign policy, less susceptible to his neoconservative friends urging him to deal with Iraq once and for all.

Everything's possible, I suppose.

It is impossible to know, but I suspect that the United States still would have gone to war in Iraq under President Jeb Bush. He would have been amenable to a compelling case from the same neocon camp that influenced George W., and Hussein's 1993 assassination attempt against George H.W. Bush could have clinched the deal. However, once in Iraq, Jeb would have been less prone to botch the job through inattention and cronyism. As with Florida's hurricanes, Jeb probably would have considered the task of invading, occupying and rebuilding a foreign country too important to outsource to political hacks or ideologues.

Once the family's brightest hope for this generation, Jeb may now prove a victim of the political ruin his older brother has brought to the Bush brand. Barely three in 10 Americans think that George W. is doing a good job. What are the chances that voters will gamble on the First Brother?

No one should write Jeb's political epitaph just yet. Even a 2008 presidential run should not be ruled out entirely. Should John McCain or Rudolph W. Giuliani or Mitt Romney fail to build a dominating presence by mid-summer, there is probably only one Republican who could come in at such a late date and still build an effective organization and a powerful fundraising machine in a matter of weeks: Jeb Bush. After all, Jeb raised about $35 million to win reelection as Florida governor four years ago. Pulling in $100 million in a few months is well within the realm of the possible.

In all likelihood, though, 2008 would be tough. The Iraq war is not getting any more popular, and U.S. troops may not be coming home quickly enough to allow Jeb a credible run. A better fit for Jeb this time around is the number two slot. It would ensure his claim to be the GOP's front-runner in future contests. Coming on the heels of the George W. Bush presidency, the prospect of a Vice President Jeb Bush is not quite as scary as a President Jeb Bush. And the campaign trail is the ideal venue for Jeb to sell himself to the national media. The gap between Jeb, the Serious and Thoughtful Grownup, and George, the Perpetual Frat Boy, would become a major story line.

McCain swung by Tallahassee in December 2005 to sound out Jeb about running with him, and any Republican candidate would be foolish not to put him on the short list. He can raise money by the bucketfuls. Unlike his father and brother, Jeb does not tread gingerly through debates as though they were minefields, but uses them to his advantage. The fact that he has a Mexican-born wife could put Democrats on the defensive in California. And he remains popular in electoral-vote-rich Florida.

Jeb Bush will turn 54 next month. He has plenty of time. Given his personality and his sense of mission -- not to mention that his father and brother have already succeeded at this -- it seems impossible that Jeb would not run for president. Whether in two or six or 10 years, the United States will face the prospect of yet another Bush in the White House. Americans will then quickly learn what we in Florida already know: This Bush not only combines his father's interest in governing and his brother's permanent campaign but also brings a relentlessness to impose his will that seems entirely his own.

And ultimately, if Jeb is hobbled by the myth or reality of "Bush fatigue," one cure seems certain: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Should the junior senator from New York run away with the Democratic nomination, Jeb would have a ready answer for those who lament a Bush Dynasty.
"We're going to have a dynasty either way," he could respond. "The question is: Which one do you want? My family or hers?"

S.V. Dáte is the Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post and author of "Jeb: America's Next Bush" (Tarcher/Penguin).

Okay. With all respect to the reporter, who seems to know spin very well, there are two little words that should scotch all chances for a John Ellis Bush ("Jeb") ascendancy:
I watched gleefully as the Governor actually considered violating a judge's order and thereby putting himself at risk for arrest and jail over that nonsense. Much to my dismay, Jebbie backed down on that one. Date correctly points out that his policies have created fewer jobs than in the 36 years, but he's merely following in the family tradition on that one.
Independents would shy away from his last name and conservative credentials; the ultra-right would despise him over Terri Schiavo; the Democrats would look askance at his policies and track record (all apart from reflexively hating him for his family). So, who in this nation would vote for YET ANOTHER Bush?


Post a Comment

<< Home