Political Hay

The New Mossbacks

Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and the Politics of Dads.

By 3.19.13

Send to Kindle

It’s uncanny.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

The sons of two famous politicians made their potential presidential stand at CPAC -- each son having achieved elective office on his own.

Yet somehow… in some strange, perhaps not so mysterious fashion… each son sounds… like… yes indeed: Dad 2.0.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush sounds like ex-President Dad George H.W. Bush, not to mention ex-President Brother George W.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul takes the Senate floor for a champion filibuster, followed by a CPAC speech, sounding ever so more than slightly like former presidential candidate and now ex-Congressman Dad Ron Paul.

Well.

Shocker.

Considering that other than the elder Bush’s 1988 landslide victory when he ran as Ronald Reagan’s heir -- and indeed Bush’s landslide was said to be at the time a mandate for “Reagan’s third term” -- neither Bush 41 nor 43 ever again managed to gain a resounding majority of the votes of their fellow Americans. Bush 41 lost his re-election to Bill Clinton with 37% of the vote, Bush 43 won in 2000 by 537 Florida votes and the famous boost from the Supreme Court. Followed by a narrow 2004 re-election victory that rest on 100,000 Ohio votes. Ron Paul ran as the 1988 Libertarian presidential candidate and was clobbered, failing to win a single state. He went back into the GOP for presidential nominating runs in 2008 and 2012, failing to win a single primary.

Thus the obvious question arises.

Why in the world would the 2.0 version of hardly memorable presidential politics as illustrated by both Bushes and Ron Paul ever possibly be considered a winner in 2016?

To borrow from Senator Paul’s CPAC speech: Aren’t the Bush and Paul brands in fact the New Mossbacks?

Which is to say, with each having a distinctly leftward flavor -- the Pauls on foreign policy and the Bushes on domestic policy -- why are son Rand and son and brother Jeb seen as anything close to new or fresh?

Let’s take a look at what these two Sons of the Old Guard are saying.

First, Senator Paul.

The Senator did a great job in focusing on the Constitution and getting an answer on drone policy from the Obama administration. His simple question -- can the President authorize the use of drones on U.S. soil -- received a hemming and hawing in response from Attorney General Holder. A simple “no” would have sufficed, and eventually it came.

Kudos as well to Rand Paul for finally getting the GOP off the dime when it comes to opposing the Obama Administration. The welcome result was electrifying to a party base that had been wandering in the desert in the aftermath of the 2012 election. With the exception of Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, even many in the GOP Establishment rallied to Senator Paul.

That said, are people taking the time to read exactly what Rand Paul said while standing there for thirteen hours on the floor of the Senate?

If one does this, through all the words necessary to sustain his filibuster, there is something familiar to be found in Rand Paul’s thoughts. Something that is familiar in the sense of reminding that Rand Paul is indeed the son of Ron Paul.

One of the criticisms of Dad raised in this space last year was Ron Paul’s stubborn attachment to leftist ideology when it came to matters of foreign policy. Saying the obvious caused an uproar from Ron Paul supporters, who hotly defended their hero by launching on “neoconservatives” and the like. Of course, Reaganites like myself are not neoconservatives. Conservatives believe, as Reagan used to say, in “peace through strength” -- having a military so strong and, yes, big, it sent the unmistakable message to American enemies that it was unwise to attack us. Reagan did not send American troops everywhere around the world to make new democracies of societies unfit to maintain them in the first place.

That was a substantial difference with the world of Ron Paul, which seemed to lean on principles of what Winston Churchill once disparaged as “peace through trust.” Yet for all his hype as a new, fresh voice for the GOP one can see the distinct indications of Dad’s influence in reading Rand Paul’s filibuster.

How?

Whether Rand Paul was speaking extemporaneously or referring to notes as he moved his filibuster along, either way he would occasionally fall into the habit of favorably citing sources that are discernibly left-wing in nature.

Among the names he cites to help make his case are Glenn Greenwald, Spencer Ackerman, Kevin Gosztola and Bruce Riedel. Who are these people?

  • Glenn Greenwald: In 2012 Greenwald was selected by the leftist British paper The New Statesman as one of the “top 20 US progressives.” Other than Greenwald, the list included Michael Moore, Van Jones, Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, now-Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, Noam Chomsky, Matt Damon and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas. Greenwald is currently a columnist for the UK leftist paper The Guardian.
  • Spencer Ackerman: Was a member of the left-centered “JournoList,” whose members -- all of them Establishment media reporters -- spent their time in 2008 trying to figure out how to manipulate the news in favor of Barack Obama. A one-time blogger for Firedoglake (whose self-description is as a “leading progressive news site” and was cited by Paul without noting its leftist roots), before heading to Wired Ackerman covered national security issues for the Washington Independent, a leftist publication whose Board of Directors includes Media Matters founder David Brock.
  • Kevin Gosztola: Is the co-author (with Greg Mitchell) of Truth and Consequences: The U.S. vs. Bradley Manning. The book was lauded by leftist hero and Penatgon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsburg as having “shone a bright light on Manning’s courageous whistle-blowing and brutal incarceration.”
  • Bruce Riedel: Is a former CIA agent who served as part of the Obama foreign policy team in 2008 after stints in the Clinton Administration. He works at the liberal think tank the Brookings Institution.

There is an impossible amount of information out there in today’s world. So when a supposedly conservative Republican United States Senator takes to the floor of the Senate for a much-noticed filibuster, of all the sources that Senator would choose to use to back up his case it is passing strange that he selects people who are hailed by leftists as the peers of Michael Moore or Van Jones or as the author of a book lionizing Bradley Manning, among others.

Until one recalls that back in 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul praised Bradley Manning as a “patriotic hero” for leaking classified national security information. Outside of the far-left, Bradley Manning would hardly be viewed as a hero.

That understood, is it any wonder that son Rand would cite as a source for his views a left-wing author who has written a book lionizing Manning and praised by Daniel Ellsberg?

This mindset was directly related by Dad Ron to his views on foreign policy and national security.

Which is to say, they were a political loser. There is nothing conservative or Reaganesque in the views of people who are selected as one of the “top 20” progressives in America.

More to the point -- there is nothing “new” here. These ideas, which in various incarnations date back to progressive icons from George McGovern to Henry Wallace to the pacifist William Jennings Bryan are as old as, well, old mossbacks. Like the socialist ideas on domestic policy which they usually accompany.

Senator Paul’s efforts to get Americans -- not to mention the Obama administration -- to pay attention to the Constitution are not only welcome but an approach long overdue in the GOP. But candidly speaking -- if they are paired with George McGovern’s foreign policy, they are a loser for Republicans. Guaranteed to send the GOP base racing as far as possible in the opposite direction. There is a vast difference between calling for the Department of Education to be abolished -- a Rand Paul proposal that was exactly that of Ronald Reagan -- and yoking it to a policy of “peace through trust.” The latter idea, to quote Rand Paul, is both as “stale and moss covered” as it is a political and governmental failure.

Which brings us to Jeb Bush.

Unlike Rand Paul and his Dad’s ideas, the ideas of Clan Bush get off the conservative track in domestic policy.

Listen to Jeb Bush in these lines he spoke to CPAC the other night. Talking about a supercomputer named “Watson” and wondering aloud how Watson would analyze and fix the Republican Party, the governor said: 

Well, I wonder what Watson would say if he brought all that computing power to bear on the political future of the Republican Party?

First, Watson would probably note that Republicans lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.

In those six elections Watson would be quick to point out that non-Republican candidates received a total of 26,220,840 more votes than our Republican candidates. That’s a staggering number.

How can that be? 

Actually, there’s a simple answer to Governor Bush’s question.

The reason Republicans lost the popular vote in those five out of six elections is that in every case the nominee was a moderate Republican. That would include Jeb’s Dad in 1992 (37% of the vote), Bob Dole in 1996 (40.7%), Jeb’s brother George in 2000 (47.9%), John McCain in 2008 (45.7%) and Mitt Romney in 2012 (47.2%). And the 6th election that Jeb Bush cites? That would be brother George’s 2004 defeat of John Kerry with a skin-of-his teeth 50.7%.

One would think, Jeb Bush being a smart guy, that the light would go on here.

But, alas, no. As Rand Paul is stuck on his father’s losing ideas, so too is Jeb Bush stuck on the ideas that ended his father’s presidency and almost ended his brother’s before it began in 2000. And just why did George Bush have so much trouble getting elected in 2000 that he needed 537 Florida votes and the Supreme Court to put him over the top?

As we noted here the other week, Bush 43 speechwriter Michael Gerson has given a very specific look at what the Bush strategy was in 2000. Wrote Gerson:

In the summer of 1999, George W. Bush chose the first major policy speech of his presidential campaign to pick a fight with Grover Norquist. Bush flatly rejected the “destructive” view “that if government would only get out of our way, all our problems would be solved” — a vision the Texas governor dismissed as having “no higher goal, no nobler purpose, than leave us alone.”

 … [T]he Bush campaign was purposely attempting to alter the image of the Republican Party. And the party — rendered more open to change by eight years in the presidential wilderness — gave Bush the leeway to make necessary ideological adjustments… they [the GOP] must move beyond Reagan-era nostalgia.

And so -- that’s what the Bush campaign did. Again -- as specifically cited by Jeb Bush, Brother George W. lost the popular vote following this strategy, gathering a mere 47.9%. Needing, as mentioned, those 537 Florida votes and the Supreme Court to save his strategy.

And yet Brother Jeb, the son of Dad who talked about a “kinder gentler” government and lost re-election with 37% of the vote, still doesn’t get it. Dad’s formula being adapted by Brother George -- and producing the results it produced.

Continued Jeb in his CPAC speech:

If Watson were to read the blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts that mention the Republican Party, it would find that all too often we’re associated with being “anti” everything. Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker…and the list goes on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.

As we have also pointed out, this is an old, old argument -- and it never pans out. Listen to that Bush description: voters “feel unloved, unwanted, unwelcome”. This is precisely what Ronald Reagan argued against. As we quote here obviously not often enough, after the 1976 election -- when yet another moderate Republican lost yet another presidential election (that would be Gerald Ford) a steely Ronald Reagan sat down with the New York Times to discuss just this idea expressed today by Jeb Bush. The headline:

Reagan Urges His Party to Save Itself By declaring Its Conservative Beliefs

Said the man who would later win two landslide presidential elections -- 44 and 49 states respectively -- and help Jeb’s Dad to his only landslide wina 40-state landslide when running as Reagan's heir:

A political party is not a fraternal order. A party is something where people are bound together by a shared philosophy.

Notice the difference between Reagan and Jeb Bush: Nowhere does Reagan talk about voters who “feel unloved, unwanted, unwelcome.” Why? Because Reagan never saw the GOP as a fraternal order.

One could on here… and on and on.

The real problem looming for the GOP is that if one scrapes the surface of Rand Paul -- who has the makings of a very effective senator for his willingness to challenge the GOP Establishment --one finds an attachment to his father’s “stale and mossy” left-wing foreign policy ideas that have proved disastrous.

The real problem looming for the GOP is that one doesn’t even have to scrape the surface of Jeb Bush -- who was a very good governor -- to find a rigid attachment to the “stale and mossy” moderate Republicanism that made Mitt Romney the eleventh moderate Republican to lose the White House since this long and dismal practice got serious in 1932.

Rand Paul and Jeb Bush represent two-sides of the same coin.

A coin that has the images of Ron Paul on one side and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush on the other side.

These are good people. Wonderful people. In the case of Bush 41, a genuine hero straight out of the Greatest Generation.

But the ideas these people have brought with them to the leadership of the Republican Party has resulted in one way or the other in outright rejection (Ron Paul) or a political/electoral legacy that in sad fact has been tepid at best when not outright disastrous (the Bushes).

Has the GOP lost its way?

As long as the GOP’s potential presidents are quoting the “wisdom” of leftist ideologues (Rand Paul) or accepting awards named for Ronald Reagan yet rejecting Reagan’s principles of fraternal order Republicanism (Jeb Bush), the Republican Party will in fact be lost.

Lost in the wilderness that is the world of New Mossbacks and the Politics of the Dads.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.