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Thursday, 12 February 2015 09:32

The Bush Family: Where Style Trumps Substance

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aaaBushArgh(Photo: Happyme22)At the 1988 Republican Party convention the party’s nominee, George H.W. Bush, seemed to openly break with the cold-hearted, mean-spirited Reagan years, and declared in his acceptance speech that he sought a “kinder, gentler” nation. Twelve years later, during the presidential campaign of 2000, George W. Bush tried to separate himself from others in the GOP by basing his campaign around “compassionate conservatism.” Now, with Jeb Bush gallivanting around the country to line up big-pocket donors, and “exploring” the possibility of running for the presidency, it’s his turn to come up with a catch phrase that will separate him from the other potential candidates.

To add to an old saying, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me a third time: Hello President Jeb Bush.”

As longtime conservative columnist Byron York pointed out recently in a column for the Washington Examiner, “When Bushes run for president, they portray themselves as more caring, more gentle and more compassionate than their sometimes heartless and harshly ideological fellow Republicans. It worked for George H.W. Bush in 1988, it worked for George W. Bush in 2000, and now Jeb Bush is preparing to give it another go in 2016.”

At a recent speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Jeb Bush tried to detach himself from some of his less kind, less gentle and less compassionate rivals. No, he didn't lambaste them for their lack of concern for the poor, or their mean-spirited and short-sighted approach to immigration issues. After all, he's not looking to make enemies; he just wants to be perceived by the media and thus the general public, as, well, a uniter, not a divider.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves in labeling Bush as the caring candidate. After all, it's not like he went out of his way to quote the last, and most poignant, lines from Woody Guthrie's 1940 song, "The Ballad of Tom Joad": "Wherever little children are hungry and cry 
Wherever people ain't free 
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights, 
Thats where I'm gonna be, ma 
That's where I'm gonna be."

Instead, it was more like Mickey Rooney telling Judy Garland in one of their movies, "Hey, let's put on a show."

In Detroit, Bush carefully steered away from 2012 GOP campaign themes: neither Mitt Romney's 47% remarks, nor Paul Ryan's "We believe in a safety net, but we don't want to turn it into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into a sense of complacency," were heard.

"Instead of a safety net to cushion our occasional falls, they have built a spider web that traps people in perpetual dependence," Bush said.

As a longtime resident of Florida, and a former professor of Anthropology (now a Professor Emerita) at the University of South Florida, Susan Greenbaum has had an excellent vantage point from which to view Jeb Bush. Greenbaum, the author of a forthcoming book titled Blaming the Poor: The Long Shadow of the Moynihan Report on Cruel Images about Poverty, pointed out in an e-mail some seriously less-than kinder, gentler, compassionate conservatism of then-Governor Bush:

He turned our pension fund into a plutocrats' piggy bank; gave $325 million to Ken Lay after Enron was already toast; bought the Edison Schools fiasco for $104 million as it was going under, and after he left office and went to work as a consultant for Lehman Bros. in 2007, sold $800 and some million to our pension fund in worthless securitized mortgages.

He ended affirmative action in higher education, with the result that today there are far fewer minorities in top three universities in Florida.

He instituted high stakes testing in Florida schools as [a] demonstration [project] for brother George's No Child Left Behind. Florida now has a two-tiered public educations system, three really, because he fostered charter schools and vouchers for private schools, and draconian tests that affect schools and teachers' salaries, with the result that a very large number of low income minorities do not graduate.

He privatized everything he could manage, with no accountability. Our prisons are snake pits with scant medical care, inedible food, and sadistic practices that have led to many unexplained deaths.

Jeb Bush was also a key figure in two Florida-based stories that reverberated nationally: the Terri Schiavo case, and the Elian Gonzalez affair. In both situations, Bush inserted himself in order to lather up his base – Religious Right organizations and the right-wing Cuban exile community -- and he succeeded in muddying the waters and raising the temperature of each to beyond their boiling points.