Jeb Bush finally—fucking finally—dropped out of the Republican primary campaign over the weekend, by my reckoning at least a few months later than observable reality said he should. Nobody wanted him to be president. Possibly he himself did not really want to be president, so much as he wanted not to be the Bush who failed to become president. In any event, whatever the fuck this weird psychodrama was, it’s over. Or the televised part of it is.
(I suppose the wised-up analysis probably goes something like this: Jeb’s total failure as a presidential candidate is an embarrassment to the Bush family, and maybe the last time for a long time that a Bush will seek national office, but probably we should not delight too much in it, because in truth this neither occasions nor reflects any significant or permanent humbling for them. Their political power remains vast, as does their ability to withdraw incalculable unearned wealth from the world; we’re all suckers if we think they’ve lost in any meaningful way. Fine. Well, no, not fine, but, you know. Sure. Yes. Probably that is true.)
(On the other hand: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha eat it you motherfuckers. The Bush family makes the Manson Family look like the Von Trapp Family Singers. Elizabeth Báthory is reputed to have bathed herself in blood to preserve her youth; the Bushes bathed the Middle East in blood to preserve their wealth, and in a just world they’d be bricked into their fucking houses like she was and left to die, but we will have to make due with schadenfreude. Fuck the Bushes, and fuck soft, dull-eyed patrician mama’s-boy Jeb. They can all eat glass.)
A side effect of Donald Trump’s rise is that it cast Jeb as the poor well-meaning doofus who was just too soft-hearted for the pit-fight atmosphere of this campaign. Up to a point, this is fine: Jeb is indeed a big soggy Saltine cracker, and he looked every bit of it trying to trade blows on a debate stage with a professional performer like Trump. A curious thing happened, though, while the media watched Trump solidify himself as the frontrunner: They read moderate politics into Jeb’s mild personal disposition.
It makes a kind of superficial sense. Trump’s bombast and bluster are indeed expressions of a kind of conservatism, after all—or a strain of it, an East Coast hustler take on unrestrained John Wayne white-man cocksureness, the confidence to describe the world however the hell one wants it to be and the privilege of knowing nobody can stop you. And so it seems to follow that his opponents’ manners and mannerisms likewise are politics, and therefore that if Trump is the bullying frontrunner both personally and politically, then Jeb—poor, polite, mayo-ass Jeb, who seemed on the verge of fainting from the vapors the one time he mustered himself to issue what passes for a burn on a stage full of anti-intellectual nitwits—must have been a bastion of relative sanity and reason and moderation in the field. That if Trump thrives in debates because he does not give a fuck about anything beyond his own ambitions, then Jeb foundered in them because he is too decent and moral to match Trump’s irresponsibility and cruelty.
This is bullshit. Even the National Review says Jeb is more conservative than his brother George, who started two wars, built a network of extralegal torture prisons around the world, and gutted the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That has not stopped people who should know better from giving voice to it.
“Ugh.” With that, Seth Stevenson, writing for Slate, takes a break from saluting Jeb’s “compassion,” “restraint,” “backbone,” “rigor,” “integrity,” and “empathy,” to acknowledge the unconstitutional intervention whereby Jeb prolonged the pointless suffering of Terri Schiavo to score some political points with the Christian right: “Oh, and ugh, the Terri Schiavo stuff.”
Ah yes, the politics writer’s annoying hard luck, that a politician’s actual behavior in elected office—the use to which he has put the powers won via canny performance of personal traits others will admire—should intrude upon one’s uncritical endorsement of that performance. You see, Stevenson wants to mourn Republican voters’ rejection of the field’s “strongest tether to decency,” but unfortunately for him—and even more so for Jeb—the effort to occlude the decent, principled, compassionate person Jeb Bush really is evidently involves a conspiracy between both his opponents and his own fucking record. Ugh.
“Look, I know he wanted to eliminate the estate tax,” Stevenson writes of this compassionate man, this model of empathy. Look, I know he cares more about protecting the heritable wealth of the ultra-rich than about funding public schools. A few sentences later: “Empathy for the afflicted bespeaks good character.” Does it now. You don’t say. Hey, remember the time Jeb Bush made it harder for black people to go to college in Florida? How can we hold that against him, when he acts so dang likable during the course of trying to convince people to like him? Uuuuuuugh.
Yeah man. Ugh. If only we’d all recognize Jeb’s “restraint” and “integrity,” instead of getting distracted by the time he monstrously overstepped the bounds of his executive authority—the time he tossed away every ostensible conservative principle about limiting the power of government to meddle in the affairs of private citizens—to score some culture-war cred by overruling a court order and intruding upon the lawful end-of-life decisions a husband made for his dying wife. There’s a principled and compassionate man beneath this entire political career spent fucking over whoever he wanted to!
What the fuck is an election? What the fuck are we electing these people to do? To be attentive in town-hall meetings? To pay dutiful lip service to the plight of certain conveniently uncontroversial varieties of downtrodden? To convincingly perform sincerity and thoughtfulness? Jeb Bush is nice, interpersonally; this is the very least that can be expected of an adult human being, and certainly of one who spent his formative years in a bullshit patrician politeness school like Phillips Academy Andover. Nobody has ever seen him shove a living puppy into his mouth. Great. Meanwhile, what about his, y’know, politics? Or is that rude to talk about? Ugh.
This is a quadrennial occurrence, when the politics media, which mostly skews self-loathingly liberal, pretends to find something admirably moderate in this or that conservative politician as a bulwark against charges of bias journalisms libtard agenda pinko media! John McCain owes his entire goddamn career to it. Why didn’t it work out better for Jeb Bush? The answer, ironically enough, is his own far-right politics: Nobody would have bought the Farewell, sweet moderate! bullshit until Donald Trump came along to make Jeb fucking Bush look like George Bailey.
Here is the thing. If he’s such a nice boy at campaign events and in personal chats, that does not reflect the real Jeb Bush’s compassion and empathy and integrity poking out from behind an unfair caricature. It reflects the real Jeb Bush’s cowardice. Have the courage of your convictions, man. Hate the vulnerable just as much with your facial expressions as you do with your ideology. That would be integrity, rigor, backbone. Jeb Bush does not have them.
What does he have? Politeness. Soft, dull-eyed, patrician manners. If they don’t sell the casual viciousness and entitlement of conservative politics as effectively as they used to, let William F. Buckley’s genteel ass mourn for them in hell. Please join him, Jeb Bush, thank you very much.
Photo via AP