THE BLOG

Jeb Bush and His Blame Game

05/19/2015 04:51 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016
Darren McCollester via Getty Images

Bush is the presumptive Republican nominee; at least, if you believe the narrative the media is spinning. Yet, he must overcome many hurdles besides his potential Republican rivals. For one, Republican support for Bush fluctuates, both because of the dynastic issue and because of some policy areas in which he leans left of his base. Second, it seems obvious that the Republican establishment is skittish over Bush. Note the tone of Fox News's reporting on Bush and the amount of time they spent on his recent gaffe over the Iraq question from Megyn Kelly. One would expect that the organization that is the all-but-official public relations department of the Republican Party would be more interested in letting the story die after a single day. Instead, they seemed to be happy to make a story of it. Also, look at the response from prominent Republicans. Aside from Republican politicians maneuvering for more media coverage and importance in their party, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a swing at Bush.

The Iraq War question serves as a crucial test for Bush. While his supporters point to Clinton and try to bring up stories that never had traction, like her use of a personal email address for official business or their Benghazi witch hunt, the illegal and unwinnable wars Bush's brother entered us into is still an open wound for most Americans. Those wars will mar whatever legacy George W. Bush might have had. Not having a decisive and articulate answer to that question when Jeb Bush is spending big money on handlers to prep him for it is a serious misstep. I am not even talking specifically about what he said or the fact that he had a gaffe. Plenty of politicians make those; it is almost impossible given their speaking and interview schedules. Joe Biden is also an obvious case of that. But when the subject is your brother's decision to enter into a conflict that cost thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian lives, left hundreds of thousands of Americans seriously wounded and disabled, and soaked trillions of dollars out of the American economy, than a gaffe on that specific question is far more serious than whether Clinton used Gmail or Yahoo.

But lest we forget, Jeb Bush also tried to deflect attention onto Hillary Clinton having supported the war. Okay, he is using a classic maneuver to divert attention away from his failure and toward his presumptive Democratic rival. Here's the problem with that game: the American people know all of Clinton's baggage and she is still a powerhouse. I recently read that he made statements on a Christian media network that reflect a much more hard-right view of same-sex marriage and parenting. Again, he tried to deflect attention onto Clinton. And, again, there is a problem because Hillary Clinton, like Barak Obama, acknowledges that her position has changed since 1996 and DOMA -- which her husband signed into law -- and her 2008 presidential run. Unlike Clinton, however, Bush does not have the ability to take a more moderate position. I have enjoyed watching the Republican presidential hopefuls squirm over the question of same-sex marriage. It was amusing when they all stumbled around the idea of attending the same-sex wedding of a loved one, especially when Rick Santorum only became relevant to 2016 because of it. That provided an amazing punch line for the president at the 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner and that's about all.

But the same-sex marriage question illustrates yet another problem. This is endemic to the politics of the right and left. The conservative mindset, and especially the Republican's right-wing base, might be characterized as living in the past. They have nostalgia for a fictional version of America immediately after WWII, one that never really existed outside of television and political propaganda. Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, are more flexible and even forward thinking. This doesn't represent a lack of commitment to "core values" as the cartoonish Fox News pundits might describe it. This instead reflects the view that America isn't in the 1950s any more, and to deal with the very different problems of today and tomorrow we need new solutions. Jeb can't evolve on the issue because he needs his base and is then put in an awkward position of opposing something that will obviously be the law of the land in the near future; a position that requires promises he would be absolutely unable to fulfill if elected president. Yet his position reflects the rich white paternalism his base trusts and enjoys, which is something America may be tired of.

Megyn Kelly's question then becomes important for yet another reason: is Jeb Bush just more of the same? Much like Clinton had to distinguish herself from her husband and his time in office, Bush has to do the same with his brother. Unlike Clinton, Bush is not so removed from his brother's presidency and his base has not moved one iota on any issue. They still advocate the disastrous tax cuts, privatization of public services and corporate kickbacks that are killing America's middle class. They still oppose same-sex marriage and adoption, they define gay and trans people as essentially subhuman and not full citizens, and strongly resist -- if not outright oppose -- any immigration reform. Even their environmental policy is rooted in the idea that global warming is nothing more than God giving the earth a big hug, despite data that temperatures and sea levels are rising faster than predicted and Antarctica is about to lose a third of its mass. After having a president in office for eight years, one whose personal approval rating has often been high and who has been described as "the coolest guy in the room," Americans may have gotten used to and even happy with an alternate narrative to father-knows-best rich white paternalism. Bush won't win over America with an attitude of old timey values and "just trust me because I look presidential." Clinton, however, has cultivated an image of a tough grandma who can go toe-to-toe with Putin and win, yet tears up at her daughter's wedding and at pictures of her grandchild.

The choice between Republican candidates is cloudy because Jeb Bush has sucked up so much of the oxygen in the media and Chris Christie is still distracted with Bridgegate, and thus hasn't truly entered the race yet. But even in focusing on Bush, we can see problems he must overcome and the terrible position he is in with his base. America is more progressive than ever on social issues, so Clinton has moved left, a strategy she would never have taken if she didn't believe it was a winning one. Where does that leave Jeb Bush? His attempts to deflect blame do nothing to hide his serious fumbles on one of the most pressing issues of the past 15 years, one with dramatic implications about his foreign policy and the direction of his leadership. They absolutely bring to mind George W. Bush's mindset and attitudes, and are completely out of step with the direction the country is obviously going. George W. Bush continues to be fodder for ridicule and scathing critiques all over the world. Whether he can distance himself from his brother or not, Jeb Bush is obviously cut from the same cloth.