Who is this Jeb Bush, why does he make such sense?
He's the younger brother of one president (George W.), son of another (George H.W.), and in his own right was an effective and popular governor of a big state with a lot of electoral votes. All of which must give a man a certain assurance even if it comes with the burden of a familiar name and great expectations. A challenging combination. And yet Jeb Bush seems to handle it all with aplomb. Just as he handled some touchy questions with both candor and clarity in his comments last weekend. Although it would be surprising if any son of Barbara Bush's didn't.
Oh, yes, money doesn't hurt, either, though in some sad cases it seems to. (See some of the wastrels in the Kennedy family line, beginning with Papa Joe.) American opinion seems divided over the pluses and minuses of inherited wealth. Money can give a leader not just assurance but conceit. It may even give a political figure a sense of responsibility -- of noblesse oblige, as the French say. "For of those to whom much is given, much is asked...." --Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Here in Arkansas, the best governor this state has had in recent times, the one who turned the moral and political mess that the notorious Orval Faubus left behind into a reformed and newly promising state, was a man of legendary wealth with a name synonymous with it: Winthrop Rockefeller.
Who knows, it may not be the love of money that is the root of all evil but the lack of it. This whole topic, and the two opposite opinions about it, may have been summed up by the views of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, those polar opposites among American novelists. "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me," Fitzgerald maintained. Hemingway agreed, but only kind of: "Yes, they have more money." And that's the only difference.
Between the two views, some of us have always been more inclined to agree with Scott Fitzgerald's. Being rich, especially very, and especially having been born that way, isn't just a matter of having more money. It comes with a whole, accustomed manner, for good or ill, that makes the very rich different from you and me.
In the case of Jeb Bush, being the scion of a well-known family seems to have given him the assurance to say some things that very much need saying. Especially as these typically frenetic and disjointed midterm elections get closer and closer -- with all the order and calm of a fast-approaching train wreck. And he doesn't just say some sensible things, but says them with candor and clarity. A rare combination indeed in a politician who is considering a presidential run, which is the kind of prospect that does more to jumble the mind than concentrate it.
Jeb Bush's common sense came to the fore the other day when he discussed one of the more contentious topics a Republican presidential hopeful can address: immigration. That's the political equivalent of threading your way through a minefield. And yet Jeb Bush didn't pussyfoot at all, nor did he sound the least apologetic about saying the right thing.
He was both practical and idealistic, not just human and humane, respectful of the law even as he advocated reforming it at long last. He made it clear he isn't just one more of those loud voices who would rather go on and on fighting the problem instead of fixing it at last. Brother Bush talked about the subject in a way a wise friend or a sensible neighbor might, without all the usual rant and cant, that is, unlike your usual pol.
Yes, his syntax was, let's say, casual. It must be a family trait, recalling how his big brother spoke a kind of English when he was in the White House. By now these little verbal tics in a Bush are almost endearing, especially when it's clear he means well. Just listen:
"Someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally, they come to our country because their families -- the dad who loved their children -- was worried that their children didn't have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony."
Just ask any immigrant's son if, given the choice, he'd rather his folks had stayed overseas than come to this country no matter what it took. I have yet to meet a single one of those who would answer that question by saying, Yes, it would be better if he hadn't been born an American. Invariably the answer has been No, that being born free is a priceless inheritance, and often enough the answer is Hell, No! (Recommended viewing: Elia Kazan's classic film, "America, America.")
And then Jeb Bush added the clincher, as if he had anticipated the usual squawks from the usual quarters about how anyone who wants to fix our broken (a) borders and (b) immigration system isn't showing sufficient respect for the law. Reforming the law and making an irrational system rational, he noted, would actually "restore people's confidence" in the law.
Can anyone seriously contend that our poor excuse for an immigration policy -- millions of illegal immigrants cast into limbo, along with much of the country's economy -- is an example of law and order? It's more an example how to discredit both. Or do we really think that things like family values and the appeal of the American Dream stop at the Rio Grande? If so, we're even more confused than our current immigration laws are.
Not satisfied with sounding unspeakably sensible about immigration, Jeb Bush went on to say some things that very much needed saying about the always imperiled state of American education, which can be the great hope or the great disappointment of American life, and we need to decide which.
But instead of raising and tightening educational standards in this country, the usual conspiracy theorists, in happy tandem with powerful special interests like the teachers' unions, oppose even the rudiments of national educational standards we've finally achieved, like core curricula and standardized tests. To sum up what Jeb Bush had to say on that hot potato of a subject: "I just don't feel compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country."
And what is the right thing? Jeb Bush has told us. In his defense of the country's Common Core of educational standards, he's said: "I understand there are those opposed to the standards. But what I want to hear from them is more than just opposition. I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools." Instead, he's hearing only "criticisms and conspiracy theories," which are "easy attention grabbers" but offer no solutions. It's about time one of the country's leading politicians had the courage to just talk common sense to the American people.
But will the American people or even his own party listen to what Jeb Bush is saying? Particularly the neo-Birchers, conspiracy nuts and assorted other cranks in his own party, the kind who make a point of voting in Republican presidential primaries so the GOP will nominate a sure loser in the fall. Do you think Jeb Bush or any Republican hopeful who talks plain about the big issues facing his party and his country can be nominated, let alone elected? There's one way to find out:
Run, Jeb, run!