8 Dangerous and Absurd Assertions From Jeb Bush's Presidential Announcement
Saying the 2016 Republican presidential contest was “wide open” and launching his first attacks on Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, Jeb Bush confirmed Monday what everybody has long known: he is a candidate for president.
“I will run with my heart and I will run to win,” Bush concluded, addressing a crowd of several thousand at Miami-Dade College, where his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, was present and his brother, ex-president George W. Bush, notably was not.
Jeb Bush, 62, who was Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007, made a series of more than debatable points that went beyond the clichÃ©s that pepper presidential announcements. Bush affirmed that beneath his genial demeanor was an extreme social conservative, a economic libertarian and a foreign policy hawk.
Let’s go through eight highlights from his speech, ranging from the obvious and absurd to what will be recurring themes in the 2016 campaign.
1. Anyone think he’s not a Bush? His new bumper sticker is “Jeb!” That’s what filled the posters at Monday’s kickoff. There’s no mention of his last name, which is a silly but conscious political marketing decision. Jeb clearly wants to distinguish himself from his older brother, George W., whose presidency was filled with many disasters. But Bush is part of a political dynasty and that includes certain family traits and views. For example, Jeb recently said he would have invaded Iraq as W. did after 9/11.
2. He cannot erase the GOP’s anti-immigrant legacy. We know he’s bilingual, he married a Mexican woman, he stridently backs Florida’s Cuban exiles, and he recently checked a box on a voter registration form that he was Hispanic (he’s white). But that doesn’t mean that his candidacy, including Monday’s announcement where more than half the speakers before him were Latinos speaking in English and Spanish, will absolve the GOP of its shabby treatment of undocumented immigrants, most of whom are Latinos from Central America. Bush is fighting for Latino votes, first against Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the primary, and then possibly against Hillary Clinton in the general election.
3. His fealty to faith and family is still anti-woman. Before he took the stage, a parade of speakers said what drives Jeb Bush are his religious values (he converted to Roman Catholicism), including being an unflinching abortion opponent, and his love of family. Bush reaffirmed these values in his opening remarks, saying that the next president needs to nurture “prosperity and opportunity” and “every life matters, everyone has the right to rise.” As the pro-choice group EMILY’s List noted after his speech, Bush’s record as Florida governor saw him “treat women as second-class citizens.” They noted he blocked access to reproductive healthcare, “imposing his extreme philosophy on women, and standing in the way of economic opportunity.”
4. No surprise, now it’s official. Bush stated: “Our country is on a very bad course. The question is what are we going to do about it? The question for me is what am I going to do about it? And I’ve decided I’m a candidate for president.” That utterance may be the least suspenseful presidential announcement in recent memory. However, by pretending he was pondering his choice, Bush slyly evaded campaign finance laws and collected multi-millions from donors who didn't face any contribution limits. What a coincidence!
5. Bush will “disrupt” official Washington? This is rich. Bush, who has spent months lining up the support of elected Republicans across the country who vote as delegates at the GOP Convention—the ultimate insider strategy—now says he would shake up Washington’s establishment. Bush pledged to cut taxes, cut regulations and veto bills to thwart federal spending, saying, as often is heard in libertarian high-tech circles, that he would seek to “disrupt the whole culture in Washington.”
He said his disruptive reforms would make the economy grow by 4 percent annually and create 19 million jobs—as if the Obama White House intentionally suppressed economic growth after 2008’s global financial crisis. All of this was his pitch to a key slice of the GOP’s far right—the libertarian Koch brother wing. Their demands for less intrusive government means removing barriers to faster profits by gutting public health, labor and environmental laws. The spending and veto pen references mean Bush would likely prioritize cutting the federal debt instead of fortifying safety nets, namely Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare.
6. Improve public schools by privatizing education? As governor, Bush arguably did more to establish private charter schools than any other state chief executive. But as The New Yorker’s excellent recent investigative report shows, besides making several of his political allies wealthy, the schools have fared no better than public schools and in some cases have closed. “Here’s what I believe,” Bush said Monday, reciting the privatization pitch. “When a school is just another dead end, every parent should have the right to send their child to another school—public, private or charter.”
Charter schools are a pet project of libertarian billionaires, such as the Walton family of Walmart, who see it as a way to capture billions of taxpayer funds, break teachers unions and evade nationwide education standards. Bush presents school choice as a racial justice issue to help the poor, when it is frequently another corporate bid where investors get rich quickly and the outcome for students is uncertain. As The New Yorker profile noted, several of Bush’s model schools have closed. But that didn’t prevent him from bashing public schools and teachers unions in his announcement speech.
“Every school should have high standards and the federal government should have nothing to do with setting them,” he said to cheers. “Nationwide… we will take the power of choice away from the unions and bureaucrats and give it back to parents.”
7. Accuses Hillary Clinton of religious biases. This is Bush’s pitch to the other major right-wing faction in the GOP, evangelical Christians, who feel they deserve special legal protections when mainstream Americans don’t abide by their beliefs. Bush faces several avowed evangelicals in the GOP nomination contest, including the winners of Iowa’s caucuses in 2012 (ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA) and 2008 (ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee). With that backdrop, he attacked the likely Democratic nominee.
“Secretary Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary, those beliefs 'have to be changed'—that’s what she said,” he said, drawing boos. “That’s what she said, and I guess we should at least thank her for the warning,” he continued, then citing a church group he said did not want to comply with Obamacare. “The next president needs to make clear that great charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor need no federal instruction in doing the right thing… It comes down to a choice between Little Sister and Big Brother and I am going with the sisters.”
Of course, what’s really going on here—besides vying for the social conservative vote—is that evangelical Christians like to think they are persecuted by those who don't share their beliefs. Obamacare isn’t forcing any church to provide reproductive healthcare to its employees; it creates an option for those women to get that care via other insurers. Bush clearly knows this, but is pandering to the religious right. This is grievance politics at its worst.
8. Jeb attacks Obama for overseas military mistakes? This is also astounding, as Obama’s overseas military policy has largely been shaped by George W.’s war debacles, especially his war of choice in Iraq. Nonetheless, Jeb Bush is staking out a major foreign policy fight with Clinton because the situation in Syria has descended into the chaos that has spawned the Islamic State, or ISIS, and the Iraqis have been routed by ISIS.
“From the beginning, our president and his foreign policy team have been so eager to be history makers, that they failed to be the peacemakers,” Bush said, which is a remarkable utterance given that George W. saw the invasion of Iraq as recasting the political map of the Middle East in a pro-western mold, and voters backed Obama’s pledge to bring U.S. troops home. Nonetheless, Bush wants a big foreign policy fight with Clinton.
“The Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended and alliances unraveling,” he said. “The supposedly risk-averse administration is also running us straight in the direction of the greatest risk of all—military inferiority. It will go on, automatically, until a president steps in to rebuild our armed forces and takes care of our troops.”
Don’t Be So Quick To Write Jeb Off
Jeb Bush’s early steps in the 2016 race are eerily reminsicent of John McCain’s in 2007, a year before he became the GOP’s presidential nominee. Early on, McCain was touted as the frontrunner, but his campaign faltered. He disappeared from view but re-emerged just as the nominating contests were to begin in Iowa and New Hampshire with renewed momentum. McCain knew he wasn’t going to win in Iowa, but instead focused on doing better than expected in the states that followed with many more delegates at stake.
Bush’s announcement Monday suggested he was also taking the long view. He said nobody was entitled to his party’s nomination. But his remarks were filled with pitches to party ideologues, who are active in the early states, while also appealing to the party’s establishment by signaling he would take up their signature issues—cutting taxes and regulations—and demand a more muscular foreign policy.
The GOP nominee may not be known until next March or April. Due to the size of the field, Bush’s announcement is likely to appeal to Republicans who want a smoother candidate than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or a more experienced candidate than the other top GOP contender, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But nobody should confuse Bush’s easy-going personality with his ultra-conservative social values, his libertarian economics, or his excessively hawkish foreign policy.