Jeb Bush was in town lecturing last week. Remember him during the Republican presidential debates? The guy on the left with the hip rimless glasses and the perpetually stunned look on his face? At first blush his appearance at my local downtown theatre was a miracle; he must’ve figured some way to tack 50 points onto his IQ from back then. Here was a coulda-been American president person in the flesh who spoke in complete sentences without a grammatical error. He listened respectfully to his questioner and actually answered his questions. He didn’t wave his fists, jut his chin out like a nasty cartoon character, or insult anyone, present or not. He didn’t call anyone a racist or a rapist, bad-mouth anybody’s facelift or announce axing anyone else from his Cabinet. He was articulate and dignified. And it was clear he can almost certainly both read and write. By comparison, Jeb was a breath of fresh ocean breeze.
But…unfortunately…as the shock of his being not-Trump passed and his words sunk in, I began to wonder if Jeb had decamped from Florida and moved to Wisconsin or something. How he rhapsodized about his seaside state! The soaring education improvements! The charter schools! Unfettered school choice had magically transformed Florida into a place filled with happy, productive, un-narcotized, high-achieving students. And to boot there is a chicken in every pot! According to Jeb, Florida has finally become that shining city on the hill every conservative Republican has crowed about since the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan, a beacon of what every state could become with a little conservative elbow grease.
Where does Jeb get this stuff?
When I got home it didn’t take much searching to learn that the great State of Florida, which did indeed show a modest uptick in education a few years back (later downgraded because that uptick was based on stated policy changes instead of anything to do with student knowledge or academic performance), is now #28 in the US line-up, with #1 being first, of course. And all of Jeb’s talk about how the Floridian spirit of entrepreneurship has created great gains in the economy made it clear he hasn’t been to Miami-Dade County lately, where the United Way of Florida revealed last year that, while the rich are of course getting richer, a whopping 58% of residents can’t pay their basic bills.
So I guess looking and sounding more presidential than Trump, however low the bar, just isn’t enough to make a decent president. As he droned on soothingly I remembered part of why he was such a bad candidate. Midway through his lecture an inadequately flavored vanilla tidal wave rose, possibly from the east off the Florida coast, and engulfed the vast theatre space. Not this again! Jeb was invoking 1950s America, that mythical Shangri-la old white conservative Americans love to longingly talk about. All we need to do to fix the country is to get everybody to cheerfully pitch in for the country’s cities and towns. Who needs the government? (He actually said that.) He cited Sandy Hook as an example of how residents stepped up to the plate to take in foster kids displaced by the school massacre there (glossing over the fact that Sandy Hook kids are products of a small upscale, lily-white Connecticut suburb rather than a filthy crack house filled with neglectful and frequently violent adults). Ask the 11% of the American population that was black back then in the 50s how great the ‘50s were for them. Or for mothers whose husbands died, became disabled, or simply left them. Or for the Americans to the left of white-bread Republicans of the day who were tarred and feathered as commies. The ’50s indeed.
So I guess the message here is that you need more wisdom and vision than being relatively well educated and seemingly presidential to be an effective president, though Jeb would be good at presidential foreign visits, where he could be reliably counted upon to not say anything rude or look puzzled at different forms of tradition and dress.
Sorry, Jeb, we don’t need the 50s back. We need a real government to help shore up and heal the social and economic disasters, here and overseas, put in motion by your brother and other establishment leaders from both parties. Distributing 75% of the nation’s wealth among the 75% of Americans in the middle would be a good start, so would reversing the rapid downhill slide of our educational and social systems. Think of those kids you talk about so much about. How’s about those family values?