Have you read the new book by ex-Bush 41 White House Chief of Staff John Sununu? Title: The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush.
Mr. Sununu has done a good deed here, both to the always decent president he served and perhaps most importantly for the historical record. Although in the latter case the book may prove to be a problem for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as he pursues his Dad’s — and his brother’s — old job.
The other night Jeb Bush sat down for one of those hour-long candidate interviews that Sean Hannity has been doing on his Fox show. Asked Hannity of Bush: “Would you eliminate any government departments? Education? Commerce?” Bush replied:
I think you can shift…in education you can shift a lot of the power back to the states. Certainly as it relates to EPA a lot of the delegated authority that used to exist should go back to the states. HHS, we should create much less power in Washington for the delivery of health care and the regulation of health care and shift it back to the states. There’s a lot that you can do. And I think there are parts of the government that are no longer relevant. Inside of the Department of Commerce it does a lot of things that just don’t relate to the 21st century. So, what I proved as governor was that you can cut spending and still prioritize to the things that matter.
Stop right here.
If you want an example of why Jeb Bush has candidate problems and why Donald Trump’s new campaign is resonating with the base of the GOP — this answer illustrates exactly.
Notice? Asked directly whether he would eliminate the Education Department — a goal (unfulfilled) of Ronald Reagan’s — Bush dodges. Saying “I think you can shift…in education you can shift a lot of the power back to the states” is not saying “yes.” Or, for that matter, “no.” What Jeb Bush is doing right there is playing the old political game that has the candidate waffling and weaving because to say one or the other offends and thus loses votes. To say yes will draw accusations of being anti-education — and as demonstrated by his staunch support of Common Core, that’s the last thing Bush wants to do. To say “no,” on the other hand, would inflame the already unhappy conservative base of the party that is filled with no-more-Bushes sentiment.
But why would education be such a sore spot in the Bush portfolio of issues — beyond his already well-out there support for Common Core?
Answer: because moderate Republicans play the game — as pointed out in this space last week — of “socialist ratcheteering.” Letting the Left set the standards of governing — then, when in power as the so-called “conservative” administration — simply tinkering at the edges of this or that latest or ancient leftist lurch. Leaving it fundamentally untouched until the next left-ward government arrives to push the government further left still.
To get back to Governor Sununu’s book?
Here is Sununu on the Bush 41 approach to education — and recall this was the administration of the man who served Ronald Reagan as vice president — Reagan the president who tried to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Reagan failed, and when he was succeeded by Bush the latter had a different approach to education altogether. Writes Sununu:
Bush’s budgets also demonstrated his commitment to education. Despite being constrained by budget deficits, he managed to increase funding for the Department of Education by more than 40 percent. In his first three years, he bumped up our spending on math and science education by 70 percent, more than doubled the amount invested in Head Start programs, and quadrupled funding for early literacy programs.
In other words, far from abolishing the Education Department, Bush 41 went entirely in the other direction. And, of course, as seen here in boasts by the left-leaning Center for American Progress the spending in the Bill Clinton years skyrocketed. Not to be outdone, the spending continued when George W. Bush became president. There was no attempt to abolish the Department. Instead Bush kept going with No Child Left Behind — his chief GOP ally in expanding the federal role in education was the then-chairman of the House Education Committee, future Speaker John Boehner. When President Obama arrived, the move was on to increase education funding further still.
And so it goes.
This is the Margaret Thatcher “socialist ratchet” at work. And here is Jeb Bush, just this week sitting across from Sean Hannity in New Hampshire. When directly asked by Hannity whether he would abolish the Education Department Bush immediately begins the politician-shimmy by deflecting that, well… there would be power sent back to the states… mumble mumble… things can change at EPA and HHS and… well… mumble mumble… there maybe something in the Commerce Department we can get rid of.
The Bush answer was almost a classic in political doublespeak. Simultaneously he communicated two things. One, he has no intention whatsoever of mounting a major effort to get rid of the Department of Education. And two, while he will tinker around the edges of the federal government he sees his job as moderate Republicans all see their job: to accept the Big Government premise and just manage it better. Tinker. Cut over here, add over there, trim a bit there.
And the result? The result will be that if there were a Jeb Bush presidency one can safely bet that when the American law of political averages kicks in and Bush is succeeded by liberal Democrat X that liberal Democrat will, in true left-wing style, grow the federal government’s role in education even more.
In truth? This is the kind of thing that fuels the candidacy of Donald Trump and for that matter others like Texas Senator Ted Cruz or Dr. Ben Carson. The utter frustration with a considerable portion of the GOP base that far too many Republican candidates have absolutely no intention of doing what is expected of them when they campaign on defunding Obamacare or overturning executive amnesty and all the rest. The message that is communicated — as Jeb Bush communicated in that interview with Sean Hannity — is that the GOP Establishment has absolutely no intention of turning Washington upside down. Least of all does Bush — who has made headlines for his repeated forays into Washington for fundraisers hosted by powerful lobbyists — have any intention of doing this.
The irony here is along the lines of the old story about the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion wants a ride across the river on the back of the frog, who assents on the condition that the scorpion not sting the frog. The scorpion agrees, the two head across the river and midstream the scorpion stings the fatal sting. As the frog dies he asks why and the scorpion says he just did what scorpions do.
In the political version of this story Jeb Bush is the scorpion. He’ll talk the Establishment GOP game on, in this case, education — promising this, promising that. But in the end, if elected he will sting the frog mid-river… the frog being the American people. Why? Because that’s what moderate Republican politicians do. His father did it. His brother did it. He will do it. And any moderate Republican, if nominated and elected, will do it.
Meanwhile? Meanwhile the conservative base of the GOP has been educated to this game. And it doesn’t take much of an educated guess to understand, irony of ironies, that the education has been so thorough over the decades that there are a lot of conservatives who are turning to the so-called Outsider GOP candidates to finally put a stop to the game.