Jeb Bush, while very much a conservative, refuses to run as far to the right as possible to win the Republican nomination. This is rational. He knows winning the primaries with too much pandering means a likely loss in the general election.
Instead, he is distinguishing himself from the pack by stressing his record from being a two-term governor. This would normally be rational, especially since he’s up against several Republicans with particularly thin records.
But Jeb is developing an odd habit of breezily touting parts of his record that don’t look good up close.
In his recent Detroit speech, Bush tried to show sympathy with its urban denizens: “I come from Miami, another city that faced the same struggles as Detroit. In my city, the schools were failing, opportunity was scarce and for too many, simply being born in the wrong neighborhood meant the American Dream was cruelly out of reach. I joined with my friend, Willard Fair, a courageous leader in the civil rights movement. We decided that the right to rise, was also a civil right. So we went to work to change education in Florida. While there’s much more to do, we saw lives changed and hope restored.”
There’s “much more to do” because the Liberty City Charter School he opened with Fair, before he was governor in 1996, was a bust. As the New York Times, The New Yorker and Miami Herald chronicled, his charter school closed in 2008, setting, per the Times, “an unfortunate precedent for the short life span of schools whose survival is dependent on their financial as well as academic success.”
Towards the end of its life, the school was charged with “fire-code violations, shoddy work by unlicensed contractors and unsafe conditions.” Jeb wasn’t directly involved with operations once he became governor, but he often used the school as a political backdrop. His response in 2008 to the school’s financial problems was to plead ignorance while touting its “A” rating from the state. However, it had already fallen to a “C.”
Liberty City is not an example of how charter schools can revolutionize education, but a cautionary tale of how not to fund our education system.
Bush has also pledged to bring his gubernatorial Medicaid reforms to the nation, using a “defined contribution” setup instead of having the government determine what health benefits must be covered. He argues that “consumers [would] have more choices [and] more customized types of insurance based on their needs … it’s more consumer-directed so that they’re more engaged in the decision-making.”
But that claim has already proven to be a lot of mumbo-jumbo.
Bloomberg’s Christopher Flavelle reported that “In 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available, the plans taking part in Bush’s reform program ranked below the national Medicaid average on 21 of the 32 quality indicators reported by the state. In some cases, those results were dramatically worse than in other states … In many cases, they also trail the Medicaid program that Bush wanted to replace, which continued to operate in most of the state until last year.”
Why didn’t it work? Flavelle concludes: “People do a poor job of predicting what types of health-care services they’ll need … Bush’s attempt to ‘engage them as consumers’ sounded good. It just happened to lead to worse care.”
Any politician that’s been around for a while is going to have hits and misses. But when you miss, you should learn from the mistake. Instead Jeb treats his misses like home runs.
We’ve already had one President Bush who liked to say that up is down. Didn’t work out too well.