Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting Jeb's Character Wrong. He Might Be Worse

I may have been wrong about Jeb Bush in one regard.

He doesn't seem to be all that Active-Negative as I thought.

What I originally wrote previewing his character:

...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...
...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...

Well, I am wrong on the pandering part.  Oh, Jeb! is trying to pander, but he's not doing a very good job of it.  And that last bit - "who will fight hard for what he wants" - that is proving to be very off-target.  From the Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky:

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine you could find a person who didn’t know 1) who Jeb Bush was or 2) what pursuit he was involved in. You showed the person a video clip of a Bush press conference or speech, but with the sound turned down, and you asked the person, just based on the expression on Bush’s face and the hang of his shoulders and whatnot, where is this man, and what is he doing?
I think your person would say something like: “Well...he looks like he’s at a funeral. Attending the funeral of a friend’s mother. Or maybe not even a friend. Maybe a co-worker, or employee. He didn’t know the woman. But he’s there, because he needs to be...
...On some level, politics is all about the gene. John Ellis doesn’t have it. No zest. No happy warrior thing going on at all. Say what you will about Dubya, and trust me, I said most of it at one time or another. But he had the gene. He liked politics. He enjoyed campaigning. He pinned his shoulders back up on stage, stood erect, gazed upon the crowd with something you might call command. Remember that smirk? Oh God how liberals hated that smirk!...
...But Jeb. Yeesh. What’s he doing out there? It’s just duty. And not family duty either. Remember, his mom said he shouldn’t do it. His wife seems cool on it. At best. So it’s not family. It’s mostly party duty. Duty to the money people. Class duty.

When I saw that word "duty" crop up in Tomasky's article I cringed.  It's a dead giveaway.  Because in Professor Barber's Character traits for Presidents, Duty is a signature trait (along with Withdrawn) for Passive-Negatives, not A-Ns.  To quote Barber:

The answer lies in the Passive-Negative's character-rooted orientation towards doing dutiful service... Passive-Negative types are in politics because they think they ought to be... (Presidential Character 4th ed., p.10)

Jeb! is primarily in politics because of the family name: generations worth of Bushes from Prescott to Bush the Elder to older brother Dubya.  Jeb won the governorship of Florida (on his second try) at a time the state was solidly Republican, and even though he tried to hide his last name everyone in state knew where he came from.  In hindsight his campaigning showed little innovation or risky stances: It was mostly a thing of fait accompli.

But now Jeb! is running outside of a comfort zone.  Whereas state politics can be easy to blunder through an election running on few issues or controversies where the party machine can prop you up and run everything for you, a national-level campaign - especially for THE glamour job on the planet, President of the United States and Leader of the Free World - requires more interaction with, you know, people.

And Jeb is running in an election cycle where all of the old rules no longer apply.  Ironies abound: the opening up of campaign funding rules (Citizens United) that gives Jeb the ability to fund-raise with little effort (he only thing he's done right) also gave a lot of more ambitious Republican candidates the wiggle room to put themselves on the ballot and find a Sugar Daddy SuperPAC to help keep them afloat long enough to carve out a big enough piece of the delegate pie.

Jeb! is clearly the Establishment candidate but the Far Right voters no longer tolerate their own party's leadership (having been abused on broken promises and failures over abortion and immigration and their culture war).  In an earlier election cycle, he'd be facing maybe three or four rivals and using his back-room deep-pocket connections to make short work of them.  This election cycle he's facing seven or eight legitimate threats with three of them genuine alternatives as Establishment figures: Jeb is also facing genuine anti-Establishment figures as threats as well, almost unseen in Republican (or Presidential) politics since the Sixties.  And all of those threats carry with them enough voter support and outrage to prevent Jeb from winning those voters over to his side: he's running weak from the very start since he's nowhere near the dominant support previous Establishment candidates carried (compare to Romney's 2012 support where he was double - 25 percent - his closest rival in July 2011).

I thought that Jeb! was Active-Negative because I saw personal ambition in him to succeed but I misinterpreted how that applied to political skill.  I saw Jeb! pander often to the base - especially over voter suppression of minorities, breaking up public schools to benefit religious private schools, and the Schiavo fiasco - but never accounted how the base still felt betrayed by Jeb's poor handling of each case.  I also thought Jeb! was A-N because everyone else in the Republican Party is pretty much A-N all over the place (even trying to call a "successful" governor like Kasich an Active-Positive is a reach) due to a party platform that is increasingly anti-government, self-restricting and reactionary.

I knew Jeb! was going to have a rough run trying to convince Republican primary voters to back him.  I just never realized Jeb would be so miserable at the attempt.

Some of the signs were there.  The fact that Jeb! is this election cycle's Mitt Romney, whom I also tabbed P-N back in 2012 because he was campaigning on a low-energy, low-enthusiasm, Just-Give-Me-My-Crown platform.  Mitt was going through the motions, surviving only because his primary opponents had severe flaws compared to him and fell out (Perry was a legitimate threat polling into the high 30s in late 2011 until he brain-farted).  When it came time to run against a solid general election opponent in Obama (Active-Positive), Romney couldn't compete as well, and his messaging wasn't aimed at the people he needed to win over (regular middle-income American voters).

Jeb! is the same way.  Jeb's body language and speaking tone reflect a man who expected no challenges to his rule and is wondering why he has to put in the effort to impress anyone anymore.  He wants his gold crown by right of birth and social standing.

Jeb keeps demonstrating a tone-deafness for the public audience.  His private audience - his circle of backers and allies - clearly speak the same upper-income upper-class language, but with the lower classes that make up the voting base Jeb is just not making any connections at all.  His attempts to pander fail because someone else got to that audience first with the same promises with a louder voice and greater enthusiasm (guess who).

How is this worse?  For Jeb, it's not a good thing to be in a campaign field crowded with A-Ns he's trying to mimic.  Where he's trying to fake it, more pure agitators like Trump and Cruz are gaining ground and support.  Where he's trying to present himself experienced as a leader, he's getting supplanted by political amateurs like Carson and Trump (again).  Where he's trying to sound rational, he's getting drowned out by irrational demagogues like Huckabee and Trump (third time's a trend).

There are reasons why Trump is beating Jeb! in the polls - in some polls by triple the numbers - and half of it has to do with Trump being more ambitious, more vocal, more intense.  Trump is openly calling Jeb a "low-energy person" with all that implies (in other words Trump would use: "loser").  And Jeb's responses are not landing any blows on Trump's campaign (or even on Trump's Id).

(The other half of the reason Trump is winning - unrelated to Jeb's unforced errors - is because there is a genuine voter revolt underway among the GOP base, which is why Trump and Carson and Cruz and Fiorina and maybe Huckabee are thriving while "Establishment" candidates like Jeb and Walker and Rubio and Kasich and Perry are floundering).

This is why it's worse for the rest of us.

Even if you hate Jeb Bush, he does represent a political methodology of governance that at least respects the process, respects the system.  It may abuse that system for its own self-interests, but the respect remains.  Trump's movement - as well as the other anti-Establishment candidates surfing in Trump's growing wake - is all bluster and bullying and bulldozing.  Their methodology of governance is predicated on forcing their opinions on the facts and to damn the consequences: ill-thought-out positions that do not reflect the realities of what a majority of Americans want and need.

It's a bad situation: a "better the devil you know" false choice between an Establishment candidate like Jeb who likely pander to the Far Right but still keep the bare basics of our Constitution intact, over a rabble-rouser like Trump who would knock everything off their foundations if it meant scoring personal (either self-profiting or ideological) victories.

Even as a Passive-Negative, Jeb would be bad as President because he will be rising to the office of the Presidency at a bad time for the nation.  It has to do with that Passive aspect of the character: Jeb will not be a natural leader in office.  The decisions will most likely not come from him, but will come from either his allies or from his mental projection of what he is expected to do.

Previous P-Ns came to office under more favorable surroundings.  Washington was surrounded by other men whose ambitions and goals were towards the construction of a new form of government, which meant things would work.  Coolidge was promoted into the office during a period of national growth where little was expected out of the Presidency (he also presided over a period of inaction against the rot that would lead into the Great Depression).  Eisenhower came into a post-war period with a citizenry used to a New Deal system that kept the engines of our nation churning even though Ike did little (outside of a massive construction project called the Interstate Highway).

In today's political environment any Passive figure - either Positive or Negative - would be disastrous.  Passives let themselves get stepped on or tricked by more ambitious Active staffers under their authority.  The modern Republican party is made up of either con artists - those who would seek to deregulate every safety rule for profit, and then induce massive tax cuts for the rich for even more - or hard-core ideologues - those who would seek a social conservative agenda against gay marriage and women's health rights, or would seek neoconserative foreign follies that would once again alienate our allies, invade more countries, and bankrupt our coffers and soldiers.

If Jeb wins as a Passive-Negative he is bound to bring in both types to staff his administration and dictate policies.  As an Active-Negative he still would - that is the nature of the modern Republicans - but at least as an A-N he could mitigate or limit the free-range damage a Passive would allow: Think of the damage that happened under the careless watch of Grant or Harding or Dubya.

And it's starting to look as though Jeb! is losing the Establishment cred as well: Politico reports three heavy backers have abandoned him as his polling slides into single digits in various polls.

Either way, Jeb Bush shouldn't be elected President.  He may act like he wants it, but he doesn't.  He certainly doesn't deserve to be President.


dinthebeast said...

Guess what, Jebbie-poo: If you think campaigning is a pain in your ass, try governing for a while. The real estate bubble you presided over in Florida does not make you a financial wizard.

-Doug in Oakland

Pinku-Sensei said...

Your analysis of Jeb!'s personality reminded me of a Rachel Maddow segment a couple of weeks ago. She showed old news reports of the candidates in a "Tale of the Tape" show. The one she used for Jeb! was of him campaigning in Puerto Rico for his dad in 1980. He was so nervous addressing a crowd that his leg was shaking. While he helped win Puerto Rico for his father, his insecurity showed even back then. He may have gotten better, but he's still not into it. Chalk it up to "the child is the father to the man."