One can be tempted to feel sorry for Jeb Bush, especially given his ignominious exit from the Republican race. During the campaign he seemed affable and even reasonable. He seemed to be personally a nice guy who, through an unfortunate series of events, failed in his pursuit of the presidency. Using a high school metaphor, he gave the impression of being an earnest type whose run for class president was upended by the relentless taunting he received from the uncouth school bully Donald Trump.
We should be wary of falling for that impression. The Bush family is just like others with ‘old money’ wealth. As long as they are not thwarted in their ambitions, they exude an air of politeness and courtesy that can easily be mistaken for decency. But they are ruthless, unprincipled people, willing to sacrifice anyone for their own ends. Even when they are challenged, they usually use surrogates to do the dirty work for them so that they can continue to pretend that they are above the fray and are even appalled at the dirty work going on. But it is they who call the shots. They are the type who know which fork to use for each course at formal dinners, and also how to secretly stick it into the backs of their political enemies.
We saw that with the patriarch George H. W. Bush and the way he allowed his campaign manager Lee Atwater to destroy the character of Michael Dukakis with all manner of sleazy attacks in the 1988 campaign. George W. Bush and his campaign strategist Karl Rove are, of course, legendary for their dirty politics, among other things their vicious anti-gay campaign in the 2004 election and spreading the rumor that John McCain’s child adopted from Bangladesh was really his own child fathered with a black woman. And Jeb Bush showed his colors when he finagled the Florida vote in 2000 to give the state to his brother.
But there was something else that we tend to forget and that was Jeb’s abominable role in the Terri Schiavo case that Michael Kruse writes about. Schiavo was the woman who went into a coma in 1990 and was deemed to be brain dead and in 2000 her husband Michael Schiavo wanted to discontinue her life-support. But the religious nutters seized on her case to argue that her brain was intact and that her feeding tube should be kept inserted and Jeb Bush became their champion. He went to incredible lengths in his fight against Michael Schiavo, even getting special legislation passed at the state and federal levels and making her case go national. At one point her feeding tube was even re-inserted. He got his brother the president involved and took the case all the way to the US Supreme Court, dragging the process out for five years until 2005 before a judge finally called a halt to the process and her tube was finally removed. An autopsy showed severe brain atrophy.
As Michael Schiavo said last year, Jeb Bush put him through hell to further his own political ambitions and called him a “vindictive, untrustworthy coward.” In that case, Bush showed that he was a rigid, religious, ideologue, willing to go to extraordinary lengths to try and get his way. In other words, a typical Bush.
Adam Haslett describes the Bush family’s history and how they became the victims of the very climate they created.
[T]he Bushes have long been aristocrats with knives in their pockets. In politics since the 1950s and in the White House for 16 of the last 28 years, this dynastic family embodies more than any other the transformation of the Republican party from a coalition of north-eastern social liberals and economic elites to one of southern, religious conservatives and free-market extremists.
Along this path came the willingness to employ – always at arm’s length – not only the kind of racially charged demagoguery that Trump brandishes openly, but the staging of false controversy for political gain that is the real estate executive’s modus operandi.
It is not just the Republican party’s general extremism that has created such a vast public space for a demagogue to fill. The Bush family’s political behavior, in all its disdainful violence, prepared the way for Trump. The difference being that where the Bushes used henchmen, Trump is his own – and all the more effective for it.
So rather than the metaphor of high school Jeb being thwarted by the bully Trump, the real story is that he is the person who was able to act like a bully because of his powerful family but who received his comeuppance when a new and even bigger bully who did not give a damn about his family came to his school. So I say good riddance to Jeb and his brother and father. Unfortunately, the Bushes breed like rabbits and there is a whole brood of Bushes who have political ambitions and we are going to have to deal with them too.
Stephen Colbert is kinder about Bush’s exit than I am.