The Spectacle Blog

Memo to Jeb Bush: The Country Has Changed

By on 5.19.14 | 4:14PM

We Tea Party types are forever being accused of epistemic closure—coating our minds in the Armor All of ideology and refusing to associate with those who don’t share our prefabricated opinions. Occasionally this criticism is valid and needed. But focusing on it exclusively can obscure the fact that the Republican establishment has a similar problem.

There’s an indirect reference to the Closing of the Moderate Mind in a column today by Peter Beinart. Beinart, a Hillary Clinton sympathizer, recently attended an address given by Hillary at the New America Foundation, and noticed something odd:

[T]he most important takeaway from Hillary’s speech was that she’s aching to run against Jeb Bush. Clinton is not a great inspirational speaker. She’s at her best arguing a case. And the most effective part of her speech Friday was her case for why Clinton-administration policies—an expanded earned-income tax credit, a higher minimum wage, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program—helped poor and middle-class Americans get ahead, while the Bush administration policies that followed—tax breaks for the rich, unfunded wars—made their struggles harder.

This runs entirely counter to the conventional wisdom, which holds that Jeb Bush is reasonable man in a party of frothing zealots. Bush is supposed to be establishment, electable, an ambassador to those elusive Hispanics and independents. But as Beinart points out, a Jeb candidacy would be tautly tethered to a Dubya presidency. And while George W. Bush’s approval rating has increased since he left the White House, the general consensus, in both the GOP and the greater public, is that Bush’s presidency is something to be forgotten. As Beinart notes, “Inside the GOP establishment, the Bushes represent responsible conservatism. But for many other Americans—especially Millennials—they represent economic meltdown and unwinnable war.”

America has moved on from George W. Bush. But the Republican Party has not.

For many of its financiers and bigwigs, the GOP is supposed to be essentially the same party that it was during the aughts—waging preemptive war, reforming immigration, federalizing education, cutting taxes while raising spending. Those priorities are completely out of step at a time when Americans are rethinking their nation’s role in the world, low-skill immigrants have the potential to depress wages during a recession, the backlash against Common Core is loud and bipartisan, and the national debt is obscenely high. It isn’t the Tea Party that’s living in a bubble. It’s the establishment, refusing to sync their policies with the realities around them.

I keep coming back to something that columnist Polly Toynbee wrote after the British Parliament unexpectedly voted down Prime Minister David Cameron’s resolution to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Toynbee is a Labour leftist and I doubt we’d agree on much, but this bit of analysis is worth repeating:

Poor David Cameron has been the one left stranded when the music stopped, still singing as everyone else falls silent. From Number 10 came effing and blinding at [Labour leader] Ed Miliband, calling him, as reported in the Times, a "f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***". But it wasn't Labour, it was Cameron's whole country who had changed while he wasn't looking.

Something similar happened in America. While the Republican establishment cosseted itself and set to work trying to rev up the compassionate conservative engine again, the country changed. Rand Paul or Scott Walker can channel its newfound sentiments and represent a post-Bush America. Jeb Bush cannot.

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