I'm getting less certain by the day that Jeb Bush will end up with the GOP nomination, because once again he has shown that he doesn't have an answer for his biggest hurdle: anything that has to do with his brother. And so, to my bewilderment, within a mere matter of weeks, here's my fourth (!) column about the former Republican governor of Florida.
Moreover he's not only proving that he hasn't figured out an answer to questions about his brother, the former president (which is horrible, considering that's he's known for years as he prepared to run that these questions would obviously be coming and he's had that long to prepare), but he's now attacking Republicans, and worse he's showing that being out of political office for eight years has made him rustier than is ideal when you want to be The Most Powerful Man in the World..
On Sunday, appearing on the CBS program Face the Nation, he told host Bob Schieffer, when asked about the huge budget deficit that had skyrocketed during the George W. Bush Administration: “I mean, because of the war and because of the focus on protecting the homeland, I think he let the Republican Congress get a little out of control, in terms of the spending."
This is so wrong is so many different ways, but let's just focus on this:
Given that it's the president who prepares the budget, Jeb Bush's comments is a seriously questionable tactic to take. And given that he's slamming his own party, it's an even more questionable one. And "a little out of control" is a pretty eye-rolling, clueless phrase when you consider that what his brother George W. did was oversee the economic crash of the country, bringing about a recession that came close to bordering the Great Depression. Describing the economic meltdown during Bush 43 as "a little out of control" is like calling the Grand Canyon a little pothole. The Titanic was "a little out of control" compared to the collapse of the U.S. economy during the term of the elder Bush brother.
And further, it's that very same Great Depression that causes the biggest problem for his answer --
That's because when Franklin Roosevelt became president after the Great Depression had hit, he turned that economic collapse around with the New Deal. And for the past 70 years, Republicans have fallen over themselves desperately trying to convince a hoped-for gullible public that it wasn't because of the New Deal social programs at all that got the United States out of the Great Depression, but rather the sheer chance that World War II occurred, whose need for increased production spurred the economy.
Meanwhile, compare that to what Jeb Bush just said: that when George W. Bush dealt with war -- and did so on a far smaller scale than WWII and its two fronts in Europe and Asia -- he didn't grow the economy but crashed it. Somehow, gee, FDR was able to "control" the Democratic Congress, but GWB couldn't "control" the Republican one.
So, Jeb Bush has painted himself -- and painted the GOP, most especially if he gets the party's nomination as its standard bearer -- into a corner. Either America got out of the Great Depression because of FDR's social programs, or the reason was the beneficial economics of war...in which case it shows that George W. Bush was as incompetent as the public and presidential historians believe.
The reality is that FDR did benefit from increased production during WWII, and also that the country benefited from the New Deal social programs. But it's unlikely that we'll see Republicans give any credit to the latter, meaning the GWB incompetence scenario leaps to the forefront and will have to stand.
But no, Jeb Bush didn't stop there.
“We were under attack and he brought, he unified the country,” he also explained about his brother, the then-president. “And he showed dogged determination and he kept us safe."
Let's be really clear: George Bush didn't "unify the country." He tore it apart in divisive battle lines so virulent that still they're still being ripped. The only way you could even consider saying he "unified the country" is in the public's condemnation of him, given that he left office with only a paltry 22% approval rating.
And contrary to the mantra that George W. Bush Kept Us Safe, it's critical to remember -- and always remember -- that under his "watch," 3,000 people actually died on American soil when George W. Bush was asleep at the wheel and ignoring Presidential Daily Briefings that said Osama Bin Laden was determined to attack the U.S. with airplanes. And if you want to take it a step further, an additional 4,500 Americans died in the Iraq War which isn't the president's fault, no, except that that war was started on a lie and should never have occurred in the first place -- something 53% of the public believes today, compared to just 42% who disagree.
And still, Jeb Bush wasn't finished. As he went on and told Mr. Schieffer:
"And you know, you can talk about a lot of stuff, but when you're president of the United States and you're confronted with that kind of event, to respond the way he did is admirable."
Just to be clear, and again by way of reminder, since Jeb Bush continues trying to rewrite history, the way George W. Bush responded to America being attacked and 3,000 people getting killed was that he froze and read the book My Pet Goat to schoolchildren.
But none of this is about George W. Bush. It's about how with all his time to prepare, Jeb Bush still hasn't figured out how to respond to the legacy of his brother. And for anyone who doesn't think this is a problem for him, consider that if actually wasn't a problem, Jeb Bush's answers would be oh-so-easy, praising through the roof his brother's eight years as president and exclaiming to the world what a brilliant job he did, rather than keep trying to figure out how talk himself out of a corner -- and now blame his own party.
And until he can come up with a way how to address the problem of his brother and not keep shooting himself in the foot, Jeb Bush not only is going to have a much harder time becoming president himself, let alone getting the GOP nomination, but simply convincing the public that if he can't handle questions this basic, how in the world can we expect him to handle the really difficult questions of being president?
Being president is hard work, his brother said. Who'd have thought that for Jeb Bush simply running for president would be almost as hard. Especially when you haven't even announced you're a candidate yet.
In the end, the problem for Jeb Bush isn't what I say here about him and all his stumbles. It's what the other candidates say about him, as they spot his weakness, leap on each and every gaff once he gets up on a debate stage with them, see blood in the water, and start ganging up on the leader.
Actually, in the end, the problem for Jeb Bush is that this isn't "the end." Because you know there will be more questions about his brother and more hiccups. As far as mini-series go, this one is open-ended.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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