June 14, 2012 · 1 Comments
Above: Jeb Bush
By Marie Burns:
The winner of this week’s New York Times op-ed page Phony Political Punditry Sweepstakes was clearly David Brooks, who on Tuesday argued that for our democracy to work Americans had to be better lemmings: “To have good leaders,” Brooks wrote, “you have to have good followers – able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.” Trying not to let Brooks outdo him, Tom Friedman followed up yesterday by claiming that there had to be a causal relationship between two unlike events that happened in different parts of the world at the same time on account of all that “globalization and hyperconnectivity.”
The standard of sophistry set by Brooks and Friedman cannot be matched, and Frank Bruni does not come close. But in a blogpost published yesterday afternoon, titled “Jeb Bush’s Candor,” Bruni gives it his best effort. He lost me at the title. “Jeb Bush’s Candor,” would be accurate only if Bruni meant it ironically. But no. Bruni means that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican, had spoken candidly.
What has so impressed Bruni was that “Jeb Bush made news earlier this week, saying that neither his father [President George H. W. Bush] nor Ronald Reagan would have found a comfortable place in the Republican Party of today.” According to Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, Jeb said, “Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad – they would have a hard time if you define the Republican party – and I don’t – as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground.” He added “that he views the hyper-partisan moment as ‘temporary.’”
‘Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time – they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan suport,” he said. Reagan ‘would be criticized for doing the things that he did.’ Bush cited, in particular, ‘the budget deal my dad did, with bipartisan support – at least for a while – that created the spending restraint of the ‘90s,’ a reference to a move widely viewed now as a political disaster for Bush, breaking a pledge against tax increases and infuriating conservatives. It was, Bush said, “helpful in creating a climate of more sustainted economic growth. Politically it clearly didn’t work out – he was a one term president,’ his son said.
Bruni claims, “Jeb Bush said what he did at the breakfast because he was free to. Because he wasn’t running for anything, and hadn’t in a while. Because he was liberated. And as he noted at the breakfast, office holders in these bitterly partisan times are more hostage than at many moments in the past to the orthodoxies of their respective parties.”
No, actually, Jeb said what he said because he is a politician and he was using a quasi-public forum to push his own agenda and polish his family’s legacy. I don’t begrudge him that. This is what politicians do, and Jeb does it well. But Jeb’s performance was not anything like candor. Candor means speaking honestly, without prejudice or malice. When politicians speak “candidly,” it usually comes in the form of a “gaffe.” They accidentally reveal some true thing that does not serve their purposes. Jeb’s Bloomberg View breakfast musings were self-serving. It is in Jeb’s interest to pull his party back from the brink of crazy, or at least to give the perception that is what he is attempting.
In his remarks, Jeb said Democrats were as responsible as Republicans for the “disturbing” partisanship in Washington, D.C. He specifically blamed President Obama: “His first year could have been a year of enormous accomplishment had he focused on things where there was more common ground,’ he said, arguing that Obama had made a ‘purely political calculation’ to run a sharply partisan administration…. If he was a transcendent figure, which is what he ran as, I think he’s failed.’” Is that candor? Gee, Thomas Mann of the liberal-ish Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute argue that “Republicans are the problem…. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” That would be candor.
Completely ignoring the (thankfully) failed effort by President Obama to strike a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction with John Boehner and House Republicans, Jeb claimed that Obama “’had a chance’ to address the long-term deficit with the remedy that Simpson and Bowles recommended…, but didn’t ‘for political reasons. It was purely a political calculation,’ he said. ‘He created Simpson-Bowles and then abandoned it at birth.’” Jeb Bush is a smart, calculating man. He knows perfect well that if Obama had embraced Simpson-Bowles by name (and reportedly in his deficit-reduction talks with Boehner, Obama moved even further to the right than Simpson and Bowles’ recommendations), Congressional Republicans would have disowned it. No, this is not candor, Mr. Bruni. Claiming President Obama behaved in “sharply partisan” fashion is what we call “Republican talking points.”
At the breakfast meeting, Bush also praised Paul Ryan’s budget – the one Mitt Romney has endorsed in principle, the one that would cut taxes on the rich, cut safety-net programs for the poor and middle class, and balloon the deficit. No that is not candor, either. In fact, it is not even pulling his party back from crazy. Bruni cites the Republican primary debate in which all of the candidates raised their hands when asked which of them would reject a budget that had $10 in spending cuts for every $1 of revenue. He writes, “My question here is whether, if Jeb Bush had been on that stage in Ames that night, he would have answered as Huntsman and all the others did or would have said what he subsequently has – that such a hypothetical deal is an attractive one?” The fact is that Jeb’s endorsement of the Ryan-Romney budget answers Bruni’s question. Yes, Jeb would have raised his hand, too. That is the no-new-taxes pledge he tacitly endorsed when he applauded Ryan and Romney and criticized Obama. If Bruni had the most elementary ability to connect Bush’s conflicting statements about prudent fiscal policy, he would not have asked the question.
One important point that Bush made at the breakfast spoke to the GOP’s demographic problem. As the country becomes more non-white, Jeb’s party is isolating itself. As Garry Wills wrote in the New York Review of Books recently,
this election year gives Republicans one of their last chances – perhaps the very last one – to put the seal on their plutocracy. The US Census for the year ending in July 2011, showed that white births in America were for the first time a minority compared to those of ‘minorities’ (blacks, Hispanics, Asians). The state legislators seated by the 2010 elections have been fighting this drift with draconian immigration measures and new voter ID laws aimed at blacks and Hispanics, the young and the elderly. This slashing of the voter rolls may give them the edge of victory in 2012. But time is not on their side.
During the GOP presidential primary season, the candidates, including Mitt Romney, tried to outdo one another in their zeal to keep Hispanics down and out. Unlike some of his wackier competitors, Romney did not concentrate on electrified border fences that would kill Mexicans if the alligators in the moats didn’t get them first. Instead, his plan is more draconian: he would make life so difficult for undocumented aliens that they would “self-deport” even if their family members are living in the U.S. legally. Romney has also expressed his support for Arizona’s harsh anti-immigration law –calling it “a model” for federal law – and said he “would drop a federal lawsuit against it.” To all this, Jeb – whose wife and children are of Mexican heritage – responded that Romney “needs to broaden the message out when talking about immigration, to make it an economic issue as much as it is a question of the rule of law.” Bush noted that during the primary, Romney put himself “in somewhat of a box” on the immigration issue. “So I think the broader message is how you get out of it,” he said. According to Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, Jeb also “suggested Romney continue to campaign in Hispanic communities, that he recast immigration as an economic issue, and that he focus on the question of education. ‘I do feel a little out of step with my party on this,’ he said.”
Clearly, Bush sees appealing to Hispanic voters as in his party’s own interest. There is nothing the matter with that. Romney’s views are appalling, in fact, and the Republican party should – as Jeb Bush did when he won the Hispanic vote in Florida – address issues of particular importance to Hispanic groups. That is not candor. That is common sense.
Whether or not Jeb Bush is positioning himself for a run in 2016 or 2020, I have no idea. A reasonable person can see why he would not run in 2012, a year when the Republican party is pretending Ronald Reagan was the last Republican president, and neither Jeb’s father nor his brother is ever named. When Dubya “endorsed” Romney – in an elevator, as the door was closing, in response to a reporter’s question – Romney did not acknowledge the endorsement of the former President. When forced to refer to Dubya, Romney does not name him but calls him “Obama’s predecessor,” in an apparent attempt to tie Dubya to Obama. Bruni should be aware of this. As Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times wrote, Jeb Bush’s “comments gave voice to the growing drift of the party’s base from the Bush family, which has become all the more acute as this year’s Republican presidential contenders, including Mr. Romney, appeared to wipe his brother George’s eight years in the White House from their collective memory bank.”
Frank Bruni not only attended the Bush breakfast with Jim Rutenberg, he linked Rutenberg’s story in his own post in praise of Bush. Rutenberg did not attribute any motives to Jeb Bush, but Bruni – whose job is to analyze the facts Rutenberg reports – should have been able to glean Jeb’s motives. In 2016, Jeb’s role in handing the presidency to his brother will have faded from the memories of many Americans. In 2020, when Jeb will be 67 years old – just two years older than Mitt Romney is now – the 2000 election will be a generation old. People forget. Outrage seldom transfers from generation to generation. For Frank Bruni, whose naïve affinity for the Bush brothers is now well-documented, there was never any outrage. In yesterday’s post, he simply follows Jeb Bush and accepts at face value whatever Bush says. Perhaps Bruni has taken to heart the message of David Brooks’ winning column. Bruni has become, in Brooks’ words, a “good follower – able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.” There you have it – at the New York Times editorial department, they breed better lemmings.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com