Thursday, January 15, 2015

Predicting Character: The Sins of Jeb Bush

"Listen, I didn't grow up wanting to be President of the Unites States," said George W.
Jeb smiled wistfully.  "I did," he said.
"Yeah," his brother replied.  "You did."
- The Family: the real story of the Bush Dynasty by Kitty Kelley

My disdain for Jeb Bush comes from both personal dislike - I've never met him in person, but something he did once had a direct impact on me - and professional distrust.  I need to put this out here first, because I know I'm about to tear into Jeb as he puts himself out here as a Presidential candidate for the 2016 election.

This is my first go at emulating Professor James David Barber for predicting a person's Character as it applies to the office of the Presidency (at least in real time: I did a review of previous - and current - Presidents back in 2013).  As mentioned previously, the deal is to research a bit of the candidate's biography to find the core developments of their lives, the moments that teach them their world views and shapes their styles.  Once that's done, take that data and place it on the chart between Active-Passive and Positive-Negative to establish which trait - Active-Positive, Active-Negative, Passive-Positive, Passive-Negative - that candidate would be in the highest office in the land.

As far as biographies go, Jeb has a head start on a lot of the other Republican candidates: as a son of Bush the Elder and a brother of Bush the Lesser, he's in a sizable list of Presidential biographies.  Not as a main character, but casually popping up in the background.  Considering his place as a Bush with higher political ambitions than the governorship of Florida - if Jeb had won election in 1994 and used that to garner a second term in 1998, he'd have been the one running for the Presidency in 2000, not Dubya - he'd even gotten a few biographies of his own detailing his political rise and hopes for the White House.

A not-so-quick read of various works all point to established facts about Jeb's childhood and background: the second surviving child of a large brood, younger brother to first-born Dubya with whom he shared a sibling rivalry (ask any middle-born son what it's like to live under an older aggressive brother), following the footsteps of poppa by going to the same prep schools, taking a different college with U of Texas but making the effort to graduate quickly with high grades (whereas Dubya compelled himself to attend the Elder's alma mater Yale and couldn't achieve the same academic success), jumping into business with an eye to achieve success like dad did at that age.  Jeb in the process created the reputation as the more sober (literally), smarter brother, and worked towards his own successes while Dubya coasted on the edges of their father's success and connections.  It wasn't until 1994 when Jeb jumped at the chance to be governor of adopted state Florida - having moved there during his help on Bush the Elder's 1980 primary run - that Dubya's sibling rivalry instinct kicked in for him to try a run for Governor in Texas.

Dubya won in 1994.  Jeb did not.  While Jeb did win in 1998, it was "too soon" in terms of political ambition for Jeb to make that run for the Presidency that he desired for himself, and that the Bush children viewed as "revenge" for their father's humiliation at being a One-Termer, which gave the advantage to Dubya in 2000.  And we all saw how that ended.

One of those "what if" games about history is "what if Jeb had been the Bush running in 2000?  What would his administration have been like compared to his older brother's?"

The way things were in 2000, much of the administration would have been the same: Jeb would have likely selected the same people to serve as his Secretaries of the Cabinet.  The possible difference would have been at Vice-President: Jeb might not have relied on Cheney to run the Veepstakes (which ended up with Cheney choosing himself) the way Dubya relied on the Elder's inner circle to help him with the 2000 campaign.  Jeb may have looked for someone else, as he didn't need Cheney's "serious adult" reputation to help float his candidacy or balance the ticket.

But the administration itself, if Jeb had won (instead of relying on a broken electoral system that Jeb's governorship ironically oversaw that year), would have had a vastly different personality behind it than Dubya's Passive-Positive flavor: one that would be best classed as an Active-Negative.

The Active part is pretty clear: similar to Bush the Elder's Active traits of carving out a successful business via challenges confronted and won, and taking the wonky issues of leadership - the homework, the consultations with advisors - more serious than Dubya did.  The Negative part is the difference between son and father, however: whereas Bush the Elder had a more Positive view of political engagement - bipartisan working with Congress, dealing on equal terms with foreign leaders, backroom deals that got things done - Jeb's track record as Governor shows a Compulsive, confrontational style of leadership similar to many of the Baby Boomer generation that dominated the GOP from 1992 onward.

As Florida's Governor from 1998 to 2006, Jeb Bush's track record is pretty typical sticking to standard Republican issues: cutting of taxes, cutting of regulations on businesses, using the line-item veto to keep spending down.

His signature political policy agenda was education reform: which was essentially a constant never-ending push to create school voucher programs and establishing business-run charter schools.  On vouchers, Bush's efforts were ruled unconstitutional as the courts found the vouchers took public funds and allowed them to go to religious institutions in violation of the concepts behind Separation of Church and State (in both federal and state constitutions).  On charter schools, Florida has allowed them since Jeb's tenure, but scandal and failure haven't yet shown them to work any better than the already-undersupported public schools anyway.

Jeb's insistence on privatizing education is part of the Active-Negative view that government itself is restrictive or the problem.  Previous A-N Presidents like Jackson, Cleveland, or Hoover would have expressed similar anti-government, pro-business, self-limiting sympathies.  Active-Negative types confront issues their own way, and when the issue doesn't go their way they ignore or sabotage the issue.  When state voters supported an amendment referendum capping class sizes - which meant more teachers and school rooms needed to be budgeted - Jeb fought it, did little to implement it and left behind a like-minded GOP legislature that's done nothing to enforce the requirements.

The clearest sign of any Presidential candidate's Character - the world view, the personality, the style - is how they respond to crisis: how quick they are to engage it, how adaptive or restrictive they are to finding a solution to the crisis, how to follow-up the crisis to ensure results.  For Jeb, the most notable crisis of his governorship was the Terri Schiavo case.

Terri was a young married woman who in 1990 collapsed from a near-fatal heart stoppage that still leaves her in a coma.  Her husband paid for surgeries and treatments but Terri remains in the "persistent vegetative state."  By 1998 her husband petitions to have her feeding tube removed, to let her die.  Terri's parents fight him on the matter, and the fight gets not only into the courts but it gets into the political arena.  Terri's parents argued on the matter as a pro-life issue, which brought in the interests of the Far Right in Florida - and national - politics.  Eventually this matter got all the way to the state legislature and the governor's office.

How did Jeb handle this?

He backed the parents all the way.  Jeb ignored repeated doctors' evaluations that Terri's brain was too far destroyed being in the vegetative state.  He helped pushed laws to intervene directly in what should have been a private family court battle.  It got to where Jeb came close to ordering in state police to seize Terri from the hospital she was residing (which could have led to a police-on-police shootout).  And in the end, Jeb pushed for a criminal investigation into allegations that Terri's husband staged her collapse (basically accusing him of manslaughter), for what looked to be sheer spite.

A lot of that reads like the gameplan of a typical Active-Negative.

Despite Jeb's attempts to convince his media buddies that he's the “smart” Bush, to convince them he's a “moderate” or bipartisan on key issues, and worse having gotten them to bite on his hook of being an education reformer, he's really none of those things.  His track record hasn't been reform it's been redirection: redirecting tax cuts to businesses, redirecting state funds from public schools to private pockets, redirecting personal issues to partisan exploitation.

The guy can pander to the base as well as anyone, especially on the socio-religious issues that drive the modern Republican Party.  This is someone as an Active-Negative Character who will fight hard for what he wants.

God help us.

So what kind of expectations is Jeb jumping into, the external forces that will shape his responses to the campaign (and to the possibility of being in the Oval Office)?

He's expected to reflect the “establishment” aspect of the Republicans, primarily a pro-business platform. Most likely pushing a tax-cut and deregulation economic agenda. Here's the problem: the GOP itself is more beholden to the Tea Party faction, which will be virulently anti-immigration, anti-Obamacare, and won't care about education as an issue outside of censoring the history and science textbooks.  Despite Jeb Bush's early attempts to position himself as a “safe” choice on immigration and education/domestic policies, he's going to have to survive a primary system against candidates - everyone from Santorum to Perry - tearing him down on those stances.

Jeb's odds of winning the nomination depends on three things: 1) how well he can pander to the base, which will love his pro-tax-cut kill-teachers-unions stance; 2) how much money he can raise to overwhelm the early primary states (which will be the easiest thing for him); 3) how quickly he can kill any television ad that shows a picture of him standing next to Dubya, or morphing into Dubya, or otherwise linking Jeb to one of the nation's worst administrations.

It also depends on which of the Active-Negatives dominating the modern GOP that might run against him does a better job of faking a public persona of Passive-Positive traits.  Jeb is going to try it: if Huckabee does run, he's done a better job of faking that persona and can well run circles around Jeb.

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Works Used:
Date, SV. Jeb: America's Next Bush. New York: Penguin, 2007
Kelley, Kitty. The Family: the real story of the Bush dynasty. New York: Doubleday, 2004
Coburn, David. From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007

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