Jeb’s kickoff speech, deconstructed

    At long last yesterday, Jeb Bush laid claim to the family business. And if we parse his remarks, we can see what kind of campaign he hopes to run.

    Of course, some of what he said was baloney – like when he attacked “the pampered elites” and the “swarms of lobbyists” and vowed to “challenge the culture that had made lobbying the premier growth industry in the nation’s capital.” This, from a guy who graduated Andover and grew up pampered in one of America’s elite families, a guy who has spent this year soliciting six- and seven-figure donations from his K Street friends, a guy whose allies are deeply embedded in the D.C. lobbying industry.

    I also loved this line about education: “We do care, and you don’t show that by counting out anyone’s child. You give them all a chance.” This, from the Florida governor who, in ’99, wiped out affirmative action at state universities, via an executive order with no advance public notice. As a Florida law professor told me at the time, “People felt disrespected. And he didn’t want to meet with people afterwards, and that was taken as arrogance.”

    I also loved this line: “The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next.” Which can be translated this way: “The presidency should stay within the pampered Bush elite. Three presidencies out of five sounds about right.”

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    So there’s all that. But if you take Jeb’s remarks at face value, here are his messages:

    He’s (sort of) renouncing his failed brother. Jeb promised “economic growth that makes a difference for hard-working men and women…growth that lifts up the middle class – all the families who haven’t gotten a raise in 15 years.” Take a guess who was president for eight of the past 15 years.

    Jeb also said he’d govern as a fiscal conservative. During his stint as Florida’s governor, “I used my veto power to protect our taxpayers from needless spending. And if I am elected president, I’ll show Congress how that’s done.” That line caught my attention. Take a guess which recent Republican president never vetoed a single GOP spending bill.

    Jeb also said, “We can build our future on solvency instead of borrowed money.” Take a guess which recent Republican president busted the budget and financed a disastrous Iraq war with borrowed money from China.

    Jeb also said, “There’s not a reason in the world why we cannot grow (the economy) at a rate of four percent a year.” Actually, we did grow at four percent a year back when Hillary Clinton’s husband ran the country. Take a guess which recent Republican president did not grow the economy at four percent a year.

    He’s (sort of) echoing his failed brother. Yet, at times, there were whiffs of W’s “compassionate conservatism.” It’s a tonal thing, an attempt to demonstrate that, deep inside, right-wingers are nice people. During the 2000 campaign, W was always talking about his heart  (“When I speak, you will know my heart” and “Give me a chance to tell you what’s in my heart”).  Now comes Jeb: “I will run with heart” and “this nation (is) filled with charitable hearts.”

    Perhaps this time, unlike in 2000, the mainstream press won’t be fooled by these rhetorical gestures.

    He wants to woo The Base, but not too much. He said some of the things that conservatives want to hear. He said that “every life matters” and he lauded the religious groups that have “dared to voice objections of conscience to Obamacare.” But there was no vow – a la Santorum and Huckabee – to defy the Supreme Court if it rules this month for gay marriage. There was no condemnation of illegal immigrants, no promise to boot them back to where they came from. With one eye on the general election season, he wants to ensure that he doesn’t cut himself off from the mainstream.

    He knows he can’t win the presidency without a healthy slice of the burgeoning Hispanic electorate. Which is why he launched his bid at a Miami college with lots of Hispanic students, why he spoke a few paragraphs in Spanish, why he told the story of meeting his Hispanic wife in 1971 (“I was ahead of my time in cross-border outreach”), and why he promised that “as a candidate, I intend to let everyone hear my message, including the many who can express their love of country in a different language.” (Problem is, Jeb and Hispanics are far apart on the key issues, including Obamacare.)

    He’s going to attack his Republican rivals. You can’t win a dogfight without snarling and scrapping. Which is why, yesterday, he took a swipe at Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz – the senators in the race: “There’s no passing off responsibility when you’re a governor (like he was), no blending into the legislative crowd or filing an amendment and calling that success….We’re not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it.”

    He’ll also try to be humble. He insists that he’s not an entitled Bushie; on the contrary, “Not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn….It is entirely up to me to earn the nomination.”

    But the thing is, humility is Plan B. Jeb and his original team (since reorganized with a new campaign manager) had intended to clear the field by now. He figured that his super PAC fndraising would scare away rivals and put him well atop the polls. Hasn’t happened. Instead, Jeb is just a face in the crowd. And in the latest national poll of Republican voters, he’s tied for third behind the new front-runner…Ben Carson. I kid you not.

    Yeah, I know, it’s still early. But when you’ve slid so low that you’re trailing a crazy, you’d darn well better be humble.


    By the way, Donald Trump joined the GOP race today. To paraphrase Roy Scheider in Jaws: They’re gonna need a bigger clown car.


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