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Jeb Bush 101

REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush talking to the media following an economic summit in Orlando, Florida.

You may have already figured out (not that it should be any big surprise) that Jeb Bush is not a carbon copy of either his father or his brother. (For starters and superficially: Less preppy than G.H.W;  smarter than G.W.) In an excellent overview of the course that might be titled Jeb 101, published in New York magazine, Jennifer Senior (who stipulates that she disagrees with Bush on most policy issues) shows respect for many of Bush’s qualities, and ultimately concludes that he is not as lucky in his timing as either previous Bush.

But, writing with authority based on her coverage of him as governor of Florida, Senior portray him as more conservative than you might think (notwithstanding several areas in which he breaks ranks with the far right, including immigration issues), a very hands-on governor who knew how to pull the levers of power (or does one mean turn the screws), and a complicated, interesting character who has made several major decisions that seem to create distance between himself and the family traditions. After his two terms as governor of a fairly purple state, she writes:

“The result was one of the most radically conservative state governments of its day. He slashed taxes and the government work force; he tweezed out every stray bit of pork he could find in the state budget, earning himself the nickname ‘Veto Corleone,’ as he never gets tired of saying. He ended affirmative action; passed the ‘stand your ground’ gun law; and extended the long arms of the state into Terri Schiavo’s hospital room, trying to block her husband’s efforts to remove her from life support. He also enacted massive education reforms, imposing high-stakes testing in Florida’s public schools while creating two different voucher programs.”

Senior portrays Jeb Bush as forceful, effective and substantive — very much  the opposite of the current model of a candidate who goes to face the cameras and recite a few poll-tested words and stick to them. He believes in some things and he argues forcefully for them. Even as he has struggled with some of his early interviews as an (undeclared) presidential candidate, I have noticed this difference in his communication style and appreciate it.

Senior’s piece begins and ends with the flukes of bad luck that have imperiled Jeb’s current ambition. The timing is not ideal, but this may be his last shot. The party has changed in ways that may make being the leading choice of establishment Republicans not quite the advantage it used to be. She wraps up her piece thus:

“So here we are, 16 years later still. George W. has poisoned the Bush-family name with a horrific war in Iraq, and the tea party has poisoned the GOP with its assault on rational discourse and nuanced policy. A charismatic bright young thing from the governor’s home state is nipping at his heels [that’s a reference to Marco Rubio]. Yet this may be Jeb’s only moment to jump into the fray. As blessed as he is, the ultimate political prize — lucky timing — seems to have eluded him in a way it never did his less talented younger brother, even his father. But what can he do? It is what it is.”

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/03/2015 - 09:04 am.


    The problem with George W. Bush was never a lack of competence or leadership in the execution of his policy objectives. In retrospect, his ability to build a national consensus, however briefly, for a policy of going to war in Iraq was truly remarkable. This article, describing how Jeb Bush was able to govern effectively in pursuit of his policy goals has made me wonder, in terms of policy implementation, are Republicans more effective than Democrats? In 2012, Mitt Romney’s basic appeal as a candidate, the one that brought him more editorial support was the idea of, and effectiveness. Mitt told us that ideology aside, I can govern more effectively than Barack Obama. This notion, that we should prioritize effectiveness and competence over ideology has a significant following, especially with the media, and the chattering classes. In last week’s Almanac the political panel criticized the governor, not for a failure to close the achievement gap in our schools, but for an inability to negotiate effectively with some legislators. No one seemed to think it was worth suggesting that what happens in our classrooms is a lot more important than soothing a legislator’s hurt feelings. It was kind of amazing in a way.

  2. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/03/2015 - 09:36 am.

    Life support….

    consists of drug and/or mechanical support of a failing heart and respiratory assistance. Terry Schiavo did not have life support withdrawn as she was never on it. She was starved to death. Ms. Senior needs to be a little better versed in medical terminology.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/03/2015 - 02:02 pm.


    To broadly and unfairly oversimplify there is a basic asymmetry to our politics in comparing the two parties. The Democratic Party is the party that believes in doing something and the Republican Party is the party that believes in doing nothing. Since doing nothing is always easier than doing something, Republican administrations generally succeed and Democratic administrations fail. The Republican Party has an additional advantage in that it believes not only in the importance not just of personal responsibility, but in the importance finding ways to thrust that personal responsibility onto someone else. Since Republicans don’t have policies, when something goes wrong it’s obviously the responsibility of someone else who does.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/03/2015 - 07:27 pm.

      Activist GOP

      Au contraire, the GOP is not at all the party that favors doing nothing.

      The judicial wing of the party (Thomas, Scalia, et al) has been very busy overturning established law in order to make it more difficult to vote, especially if you are brown, black, young, elderly, or poor. They have also made it easier to buy elections if you are super rich. (I mean, been very successful. Very, very successful.)

      State GOPs have been very active in limiting the power of working people to collectively advance their cause. (When working people make more money, we don’t refer to that as being “successful”, we say they’re greedy.) They have also made it easier for private corporations to gain a larger share of public education dollars.

      At both the state and national level, the GOP has been on a decades-long mission to transfer wealth up the economic ladder. Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than gains earned by the sweat of your brow. The GOP hero Ronald Reagan (the champion tax cutter!) raised the payroll tax two ways. First, he raised the rate, then he raised the amount of your income subject to the tax so that most folks of ordinary means pay FICA on 100% of their paycheck, which didn’t used to be the case. And although they had no problem doing that to you 30 years ago, they work hard to keep us from raising that upper limit to say, $1M today.

      And with help from Bill Clinton, they worked hard to free Wall Street of virtually any degree of meaningful regulation.

      I could go on, but that’s enough to disprove this “party of do nothing” nonsense.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/03/2015 - 04:12 pm.


    …*is* an interesting persona, in some ways more attractive as a candidate than his brother, and in other ways more frightening. I continue to find it interesting – scary, but interesting at the same time – that so many people who are hostile, apparently, to the very idea of government pursue careers in the thing they profess to loathe. I’d vote for “turning the screws” rather than “pulling the levers” of power for Jeb’s tenure in Florida, but if your ego is big enough to run for state-wide and/or national office, there’s little point in turning yourself into Casper Milquetoast (or whatever the feminine version might be named) once you’ve been elected. Jeb’s successor, Mr. Scott, has certainly not shied away from that same mode of operation.

    And, as an aside, let me add that “…He also enacted massive education reforms, imposing high-stakes testing in Florida’s public schools while creating two different voucher programs” does not seem to me to qualify as “reform” so much as “attack.” Children do not benefit from either of those alleged “reforms,” though some parents, mostly on the right, think of them as great ideas.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/03/2015 - 08:22 pm.


      “people who are hostile, apparently, to the very idea of government pursue careers in the thing they profess to loathe.”

      I personally think most Republicans love good government and that is why they are attracted to the positions. Hiram and yourself seem to be confusing government with governmental policy, programs, bureaucrats and public employees. The governments of the US operated just fine for the first 150 years of our country’s history. One does not need a huge government to have a good government.

      I believe both the DFL and GOP want good government, the DFL just wants to take more private property from the citizens so they can redistribute it as they wish. The GOP just wants people to keep more of their property so they can spend it as they wish. This is a policy / ideology difference, not like or dislike of good governance.

      “if your ego is big enough to run for state-wide and/or national office”

      Does this apply to politicians from both parties?

  5. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 06/03/2015 - 08:34 pm.

    Third time’s a charm?

    I never cease to be amazed at the percentage of voters who are obviously suffering from some sort of stress disorder, because that’s the only explanation for why another Bush candidacy isn’t universally laughed out of the room.

    “Oh, but THIS time he’ll be good!”

    What a country.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 06/03/2015 - 10:34 pm.

    What’s wrong with it?

    So I wonder what, out of the things Jeb Bush did as a Governor, was the wrong thing to do… I also wonder if the State of Florida ended in a better shape after him… economically, educationally, etc. And what is wrong with being forceful, effective, and substantive – especially after our current president who draws a red line today and ignores it tomorrow among other things…

    In addition, is a person who thinks that the Tea party has “poisoned the GOP with its assault on rational discourse and nuanced policy” qualified to write about a GOP candidate? And, on the side note, has anyone noticed that GWB is always accused of being very stupid and, at the same time, so evil and smart that he fooled the entire country into doing something that he needed to enrich himself?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/04/2015 - 08:28 am.

      I don’t think anyone accused GWB of enriching himself beyond what normally comes to big name politicians. It also was pretty clear that GWB, himself, was a relatively small part (as compared to other presidents) of a big collection of people who came into power who had very clear ideas on what they wanted to accomplish. GWB was the guy “you wanted to have a beer with” that carried the election. His dispensability was clearly marked by how many vacation days he took in the midst of two wars and the lead-up to the biggest economic collapse.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/04/2015 - 03:11 pm.

      That person has as much qualification

      in labeling the Tea party as any on the right do in writing about the democratic party. As for the accusations on GWB’s intellect, I feel your pain. For six years now, I’ve read commentary from some on the right accusing my president of being in over his head, demands to see his college transcripts and insinuations that his education was a result of affirmative action. Then, seemingly the very next day, these same people will accuse Obama of being the greatest criminal mastermind since Lex Luthor by orchestrating a plot to infiltrate the US with Muslim extremists and setting the stage for him to appoint himself dictator for life.
      As for your comment about Bush being forceful. effective and substantive, I always find it ironic that people on the right view those same traits from Obama as arrogant and divisive.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/04/2015 - 09:10 am.


    “I never cease to be amazed at the percentage of voters who are obviously suffering from some sort of stress disorder, because that’s the only explanation for why another Bush candidacy isn’t universally laughed out of the room.”

    It’s a useful question, I think, why we take some candidates seriously and others we don’t. We could ask this about both Jeb and Hillary. Once we come up with some answers, I think we should ask how relevant should those factors be to our decision making process as we choose the next president.

    I think a big reason why Jeb and Hillary are taken seriously is that they have access to money, We need to ask ourselves, to what extent does having access to boatloads of campaign cash make someone a worthy candidate, or a better potential president. I think of this in terms of beat reporting. Instead of following these guys around to coffee shops, would the time of beat reporters be better spent tracking down the cash that makes these guys viable candidates, and how that cash might influence their presidencies. The biggest scoop of the 2012 campaign in terms of really understanding how a candidate’s mind works didn’t come from a reporter at at all. It came from a waiter who did little more than put a recording device on a table. Why aren’t journalists doing that kind of real and important journalism?

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 06/04/2015 - 06:52 pm.

    Bush and Clinton (and Obama)

    Mr. Rovick, we all constantly hear that Iraq war was for oil. How else can this be interpreted if not implying that it was not to enrich Americans but to enrich Bush and his people. And isn’t Obama taking a lot of vacations, too?

    Mr. Myron, everyone may write about anything. The question was why her article was worth bringing up… As for Bush intellect, I do not feel any pain – he is not my relative. I just pointed out another contradiction in the Left’s position. And Obama was never accused of stupidity – just of incompetence which is not the same. And of course, as I pointed out, Obama is not forceful or effective in the foreign policy where it matters most – just read the news from around the world. Neither is he effective in domestic affairs even though he is sometimes forceful.

    Mr. Willemssem, the difference between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton is that Bush was obviously effective in his political career while Clinton has accomplished nothing – and still so many people crave her as a president…

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 06/05/2015 - 09:24 am.


      Obama has take far fewer vacation days than his predecessor. As of December 2014 (at the same point in their Presidencies), Obama had taken 245 fewer days of vacation than GWB.

  9. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 06/04/2015 - 09:13 pm.

    Bush? Effective? Hilarious.

    Let’s run down the list.

    1) Put into office with the help of his brother, his brother’s SoS, and a partisan Supreme Court. Lost the popular vote.
    2) In charge during the worst intelligence failure in American history.
    3) Started, and lost, three wars.
    4) Katrina.
    5) $4+ gasoline, from $1 gasoline. Mission accomplished.
    6) Oversaw the housing bubble and “led” during the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression.
    7) Lost over 1/2 million private sector jobs in 8 years.
    8) Recorded the first annual deficit exceeding $1 trillion.
    9) Nationalized several companies / industries.
    10) Signed the Patriot Act and unfunded Medicare D into law.

    If that’s “effective”, please give us “ineffective”.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/05/2015 - 04:12 pm.


    I think Bush was a remarkably effective recent president but that’s not a very high standard to reach. He was able to implement a number of his policies. Persuading America to go to war in iraq was, to my mind, a remarkable achievement. His failures were often the result of the fact that his policies were bad, not that he was ineffective in pursuing them. Take Katrina, for example. Not even a wild eyed Democrat such as myself would blame him for the hurricane itself. I leave that to the Pat Robertsons of the world. But in policy terms, Republicans, as a policy, believe in local control and President Bush who lived in Washington D.C. at the time, didn’t view what happened on the far away Louisiana coast as local. No doubt if the hurricane had struck Georgetown, he would have viewed the situation differently.

    In general, Republicans fail less, because they try less. Republican health care exchanges are far less problematic than Democratic health exchanges, because they don’t exist.There are times when I envy them for this.

  11. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 06/05/2015 - 08:20 pm.

    Effectiveness and success

    Mr. Olsen, Bush worked from his ranch so you cannot count all those days as vacations…

    Mr. Willemssen, please re-read my post – I was talking about Jeb Bush.

    Mr. Foster, you just proved the point that the government should not overreach…

  12. Submitted by jason myron on 06/07/2015 - 08:36 pm.

    Clearing brush doesn’t count as working for the people.

    And once again, you immediately give Bush credit for working from his ranch ( something that you don’t know for sure) but dismiss the notion that Obama works on his vacations as well? ODS continues….

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