Seven Things You Should Know About Jeb Bush

Terrance Heath
Jeb Bush - Caricature

Image via DonkeyHotey @ Flickr.

Finally declaring his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination may be Jeb Bush’s last, best hope of turning around his lackluster campaign. In the weeks before announcing his candidacy, Bush seemed to stumble from misstep to misstep. For a while there, things were so bad that there was talk of the GOP bringing Mitt Romney back. (Conservatives seem to like Romney better than Bush.) Even Ohio governor John Kasich has considered getting into the race. “I thought Jeb was just going to suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn’t happened,” Kasich said to a group of New Hampshire business people.

Bush may have been relieved when his sharp-tongued mother, Barbara Bush, said she will keep quiet during his campaign. (In April 2013, the former First Lady dismissed the idea of Jeb running for president, saying “we’ve had enough of Bushes” running for the White House.) But Bush’s problem is his own mouth, not anyone else’s.

Here’s what you should know about Dubya’s younger brother.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Bush is no moderate.

Conservatives disdain Bush for calling illegal immigration an “act of love,” and for his embrace of Common Core. (Indeed, former congressman Allen West threatened to leave the GOP or start a third party over Bush’s immigration remarks.) But don’t buy the attempt to paint him as some kind of “liberal” Republican.

Bush is far from moderate.

Bush may be the “PAC Man” of the 2016 campaign.

Bush has been skating the razor’s edge on campaign law, during his non-campaign. He almost declared himself a candidate earlier than he planned. While he insisted for months that he was not a candidate, Bush ran around the country raising an awful lot of money for someone who wasn’t even a candidate yet. Remaining officially undeclared allowed Bush to raise money for his “Right to Rise” super PAC, and flout what’s left of campaign finance law. Once Bush officially became a candidate, the PAC would take on many of the functions of a traditional campaign committee, but without being restrained by silly things like campaign contribution limits.

Of course, it was always obvious to anyone who bothered to look that Bush was running, even if he hadn’t officially declared. If it looks like a candidate, talks like a candidate, and fundraises like a candidate, it’s a candidate. That’s why watchdog groups called on the Department of Justice to investigate Bush’s “charade” of a candidacy, and “scheme to allow unlimited contributions to be spent directly on behalf of the Bush campaign and thereby violate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

Bush doesn’t know the retirement age, but he wants to raise it.

Bush has been running on a platform of cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Bush revealed that he doesn’t even know what the retirement age is.

The former Florida governor has been running on a platform that includes cutting Social Security benefits, so he’s been talking about raising the retirement age. But, as it happens, he doesn’t even know what the retirement age is.

When he was asked about it, Jeb responded in the tortured syntax characteristic of his clan: “We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70.”

Except that the retirement age isn’t 65, and hasn’t been for some time. The current retirement age is 66, and it will continue to rise. People born in 1959 won’t be able to retire until they are 67 years old.

As my fellow blogger Richard Eskow pointed out, anyone who runs on a platform of cutting a program that affects the lives of most Americans, should at least get something as simple as the retirement age right. Ask any American who goes to work every day what the retirement age is, and most of them will probably be able to tell you. Those who don’t can be excused, as they’re not running for office on promises to raise the retirement age. (Bush also backs a House Republican plan to partially privatize Social Security by letting people choose private accounts as an alternative to guaranteed Social Security benefits.)

During the 1992 campaign, George Herbert Walker Bush’s encounter with a grocery store scanner revealed him as out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans. Jeb Bush’s retirement age gaffe hasn’t become such a moment yet, though it deserves to. Maybe it will, during the debates.

Bush saved his little brother’s 2000 campaign by delivering Florida, no matter what it took.

After working for months on George W. Bush’s campaign to carry Florida in the 2000 election, Jeb Bush watched the returns come in and realized he’d failed, as networks began to call the election for Democratic nominee Al Gore.

With tears in his eyes, Jeb apologized to his brother for letting him down. Poppy and Barbara were distraught. The family business — politics — was now tearing at the fabric of the family itself. The media reports had been hard to take: reports that Jeb hadn’t worked hard enough for George, that he resented George’s relatively greater success and was worried that a George in the White House would almost certainly mean there would never be a Jeb in the White House. Now those notions and rumors could harden into truths passed on from one stranger to another: Jeb had failed. He had sabotaged his brother’s campaign. He couldn’t deliver.

Then Jeb rolled up his sleeves and worked the phones until the Florida call was retracted, setting into motion the back and forth that the Supreme Court ultimately settled by awarding the election to George W. Bush.

Just imagine. We were this close to a world without eight years of Dubya in the White House, without wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, without torture, without Abu Ghraib, etc. Jeb “saved” us from all of that.

Bush’s candidacy may be another casualty of his older brother’s Iraq war.

Bush had a dozen years to come up with an answer to the one question he had to know he’d be asked, given his past support for his older brother’s war in Iraq: Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq. Knowing that Americans were sold a bogus justification for war; knowing that Dubya’s administration lied at least 935 times leading up to the invasion; knowing that the Iraq war has cost us $818 billion — and counting; knowing that the “butcher’s bill” for the Iraq war was upwards of 200,000 lives — civilian and combatants; knowing that 75 percent of Americans now say the Iraq war wasn’t worth the costs (and 63 percent of Republicans say the same); would you do it all over again?

Yet, when Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked the inevitable question, Bush answered that he would do it all over again (and then dragged Hillary Clinton into it, for good measure). Then claimed that he didn’t hear the “knowing what we know now” part of the question, and answered that he would have invaded Iraq if he’d been president in 2003. Even conservatives were aghast. Laura Ingraham lamented, “You can’t still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, Bush’s next stop was Sean Hannity’s show, where he delivered an incomprehensible answer to the same question, before falling back on the old “mistakes were made” answer — tailor-made for politicians who have to acknowledge disastrous policies and decisions without pointing fingers or taking responsibility.

If Bush thought he’d get away with that, he learned otherwise in Reno, Nevada. A college student dropped a truth bomb in the middle of a town hall event, challenging Bush with a simple statement: Your brother created ISIS.

Well, he did.

Ziedrich’s is a bold claim. After all, for her to be right, ISIS—the dangerous movement combining Saddam loyalists, former Al Qaeda members and disgruntled Sunni fighters—would have to have emerged as a direct result of the war Bush launched in 2003. The disbanding of Saddam’s 400,000-man army would have to be laid at the feet of “The Decider.” Foreign fighters must have flocked to Al Qaeda—a non-factor in Iraq before the U.S. invasion—specifically to target American troops. And while those unlikely allies forged ties in U.S and Iraqi prisons, Sunni tribesmen once paid by American forces would have to have become alienated by a sectarian Shiite strongman in Baghdad beholden to Iran. The inevitable outcome of such U.S. mismanagement of post-Saddam Iraq, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld privately warned his boss on October 15, 2002, would be that “Iraq could experience ethnic strife among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds” with the result that “it could fracture into two or three pieces, to the detriment of the Middle East and the benefit of Iran.”

Unfortunately for Jeb Bush—and to Ivy Ziedrich’s credit—that is precisely what transpired. Or to push in terms even Republican mythmakers can understand: ISIS? George W. Bush built that.

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler awarded Bush four out of four Pinocchios for claiming that ISIS “didn’t exist when my brother was president.”

Finally, after a week of sidestepping the issue, Bush reversed himself. Knowing what we know now, Bush said, “I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

It’s a trick question, anyway. The “knowing what we know now” part makes it a trick question, because what we know about Iraq now we knew then, too. Dubya’s administration wasn’t duped in to war by “bad intelligence.” Plenty of people knew at the time that the intelligence being used to justify the war was “flawed,” and plenty of people said so. Dubya’s administration ignored all the warnings. Instead, the neoconservatives in the administration used flawed intelligence to mislead the public into backing the war that the administration wanted.

There’s plenty of shame in Bush’s game.

In his 1995 book Profiles in Character, Bush wrote that public shaming would be an effective way to control the “irresponsible behavior” of unwed mothers, unruly teenagers, and welfare recipients.

One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out-of-wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.

Bush even used Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Victorian era novel The Scarlet Letter as an early model for his view on “public shaming.” In 2001, Bush made “public shaming” public policy, when he refused to veto a bill that required single mothers who could not identify the father to publish their sexual histories in local papers, before they could legally put their babies up for adoption.

The law was worse than it sounds.

The notice… must contain a physical description, including, but not limited to age, race, hair and eye color, and approximate height and weight of the minor’s mother and of any person the mother reasonably believes may be the father; the minor’s date of birth; and any date and city, including the county and state in which the city is located, in which conception may have occurred.

The ads ran once a week, for a month, and women were required to pay for them.

Bush signed a repeal of the law in 2003, when it was successfully challenged in court, but that doesn’t mean his view has changed. Bush’s non-campaign complained that it was a “cheap shot” for the media to bring up a book he wrote 20 years ago, and a law he passed 14 years ago. Then they trotted out GOP strategist Cheri Jacobus to claim that Bush’s “heart was in the right place” on public shaming. Finally, Bush clarified that his view on single parenthood, “hasn’t changed at all.”

Bush ought to fit right in with a GOP that keeps coming up with new ways to punish and humiliate welfare recipients, the working poor, and just about anyone else in need of help.

Bush was a pot-smoking bully in school.

Jeb Bush has called Russian president Vladimir Putin a “bully.” Perhaps it really does take one to know one, because Jeb Bush’s college classmates remember him as a bully — and a perpetually stoned bully, at that.

Earlier this year, The Boston Globe published an article about Jeb Bush’s year’s at Andovers’ Phillips Academy, that brought to mind the Washington Post article about Mitt Romney’s years at the Cranbrook School. The Boston Globe article paints a picture of an apolitical, aloof 14-year-old Bush, whose grades were so low that he was in danger of expulsion.

Jeb recalled his drug and alcohol use. “I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” he said in an interview for the Globe article, “It was pretty common.” He had no recollection of bullying anyone, but others do.

According to one of his Andover friend Paul Tibbetts, Bush smoked marijuana and hashish, which he sometimes sold to friends who sought it. Tibbetts, who was later expelled for drug use, said he most regretted joining Bush in bullying a short-statured student in their dorm whom Bush — one of the tallest students on campus — decided to pick on. One prank consisted of sewing the boy’s pajama bottoms, making them impossible to put on.

Other classmates recollect Bush as a “cigarette smoker and ‘toker’,” who travelled with a crowd, “was comfortable being in charge of a group,” and did as he wished to whom he wished in the “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere of the school. One, however, summed up Bush’s attitude at the school.

Sylvester said “the thing that really struck me about Jeb more than anyone I ever met, is he understood that he was from the world that really counted and the rest of us weren’t. It really was quite a waste of his time to engage us. This was kind of his family high school. There wasn’t anything he could do to be kicked out so he was relaxed about rules, doing the work. This was just his family’s place.”

That pretty much sums up the GOP candidates and their policies. There is “the world that really counts,” and there’s the rest of us.

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