Is Our Politicians Learning?

The most formidable challenger for Jeb Bush is his own brother’s legacy.

Susan J. Douglas

Jeb Bush addresses the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City on May 22.

In mid-May, Jeb Bush, fol­low­ing in the fam­i­ly tra­di­tion, found him­self with his foot in his mouth. Asked by Fox News host Meg­yn Kel­ly, Know­ing what we know now, would you have autho­rized the [Iraq] inva­sion?” he replied, I would have. And so would have Hillary Clin­ton.” As mul­ti­ple media out­lets instant­ly howled, this was not a good answer, giv­en what we, in fact, know now: The $2 tril­lion exer­cise in shock and awe” was a colos­sal and dead­ly dis­as­ter with ongo­ing hor­ren­dous con­se­quences. Bush spent days try­ing to walk this one back, stum­bling along the way with vary­ing degrees of daz­zling failure.

When a college kid at a town hall meeting asserts that your brother helped create ISIS, you’re in trouble.

Giv­en that the most for­mi­da­ble can­di­date Jeb Bush may be run­ning against is his own brother’s lega­cy, oth­er know­ing what we know now” ques­tions might be asked.

For exam­ple, know­ing what we know now, was it such a good idea for George W. Bush to enact two major tax cuts, total­ing about $1.5 tril­lion, that espe­cial­ly ben­e­fit­ed the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans? You know, on things like cap­i­tal gains and estates, which stoked mas­sive income inequal­i­ty in our coun­try? The cuts that helped turn the sur­plus inher­it­ed from Bill Clin­ton into a mas­sive gov­ern­ment deficit we’ll be liv­ing with for years — at a time when spend­ing on infra­struc­ture like bridges, dams, roads and lev­ees is so pathet­ic that the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Civ­il Engi­neers in 2013 gave the coun­try a D+ grade?

Know­ing what we know now, was it polit­i­cal­ly smart to alien­ate women through a series of anti-choice ini­tia­tives, like rein­sti­tut­ing the Glob­al Gag Rule, which cut off U.S. funds to any fam­i­ly plan­ning agency that dared men­tion abor­tion as an option for an unwant­ed preg­nan­cy, even in des­per­ate­ly poor coun­tries where anoth­er mouth to feed can mean star­va­tion? And was it so astute to fur­ther piss off women in 2005 by seek­ing to weak­en schools’ Title IX require­ments, which pro­vide equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for female ath­letes? Or to prompt out­cry by post­ing bogus infor­ma­tion on the Nation­al Can­cer Institute’s web­site sug­gest­ing a link between abor­tion and breast can­cer? Remem­ber when Oba­ma beat McCain by 14 points with women and Rom­ney by 12 points?

Know­ing what we know now about cli­mate change— and indeed, what we knew back then — would you have with­drawn from the Kyoto Pro­to­col, post­pon­ing for years cru­cial action to low­er green­house gas emis­sions? Your brother’s own appointee as head of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, Chris­tine Todd Whit­man, lat­er said that this was like flip­ping the bird” to the rest of the world. She might have added: and to your chil­dren and grandchildren.

Know­ing what we know now, would you have ignored a 2001 intel­li­gence brief­ing titled Bin Laden deter­mined to strike in the U.S.”?

Know­ing what we know now, was it total­ly cool to aban­don the Gene­va con­ven­tions and prac­tice enhanced inter­ro­ga­tion,” aka tor­ture, now that it looks like it didn’t pro­duce infor­ma­tion, but did great­ly inflame Islam­ic mil­i­tants’ hatred of us? And is hind­sight real­ly required to real­ize that tor­ture is moral­ly repugnant?

Know­ing what we know now— that the Patri­ot Act allowed for mas­sive domes­tic sur­veil­lance — was it such a great idea to autho­rize the NSA to spy on every­day Amer­i­cans, mon­i­tor­ing their phone calls and emails?

Know­ing what we know now, would you have appoint­ed John Roberts as Chief Jus­tice and Sam Ali­to to the Supreme Court? The Roberts court may be the worst in his­to­ry, and these are two of the folks who gave us Cit­i­zens Unit­ed, which turned mon­ey into speech and cor­po­ra­tions into peo­ple. And it might just be the case, Jeb, that the Koch broth­ers or Mar­co Rubio’s bil­lion­aire bud­dy Nor­man Bra­man may use their speech” to buy some­one else more to their lik­ing for president.

The thing is, your broth­er has been ranked one of the worst pres­i­dents in U.S. his­to­ry by U.S. News and World Report, with his­to­ri­an Sean Wilentz call­ing him, sim­ply, a colos­sal his­tor­i­cal dis­grace.” When a col­lege kid at a town hall meet­ing asserts that your broth­er helped cre­ate ISIS, you’re in trouble.

That is who, and what, you’re run­ning against: the shad­ow of your broth­er and an appalling and despi­ca­ble lega­cy we hope is nev­er repeated. 

Susan J. Dou­glas is a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and a senior edi­tor at In These Times. Her forth­com­ing book is In Our Prime: How Old­er Women Are Rein­vent­ing the Road Ahead..
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