In the part I found most interesting, Bush said that there was a lack of leadership in Washington these days. Here is the solution he offered:
Two people can disagree and they can disagree vehemently. But if they see in each other an honest broker motivated by good intentions and sincere beliefs, they can find accommodation.He also said he would offer the "adult conversations" that are lacking in our politics today.
That got me thinking immediately about what President Obama had just said three days before Bush gave this speech.
Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.Of course these two men agree on almost nothing else (although Bush did talk bluntly about the need for immigration reform and investments in infrastructure). But it did strike me that - if they are both sincere in what they said - it would be fascinating to watch them actually engage in one of those "adult conversations." Too bad that is never going to happen. It would be one way to hold them accountable for these statements.
I have several thoughts about this as an overall message for a Jeb Bush campaign.
- The rumor has always been that when it comes to the Bush brothers, Jeb is the smart one. In the question-and-answer period following the speech, he talked about being an introvert - which means that he at least has the capacity for self-reflection. What I saw demonstrated in this speech is that he has the capacity to put together a thoughtful, smart campaign that would connect with a lot of voters in a general election.
- Jeb's challenge is going to be to get past the primaries and win the nomination. Not only will he have to deal with the Bush dynasty issues (which he does pretty well in this speech), but even uttering the word "accommodation" will be red meat to the lunatic caucus of his party. They have zero interest in having "adult conversations" with the opposition.
- While folks like me might appreciate the sentiments quoted above, it sounds hollow when his walk doesn't match his talk. Throughout the course of the speech and interview, Jeb took a few subtle swipes at President Obama and completely mischaracterized his approach to foreign policy. As I said in #1, Jeb is smart. Those were not simple misunderstandings. They were intentional. I didn't see much by way of "good intentions" displayed in this speech.
- Finally, I'm old enough to remember when George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative" and rejected an interventionist foreign policy. As we know now, that all turned out to be nothing but campaign rhetoric. That's another reason to be skeptical until Jeb demonstrates that he walks his talk.
I don't want any of this to suggest that I might be a supporter of Jeb Bush. I disagree almost totally with his policies. But - at least in rhetoric - he's making a big departure from the status quo of the GOP these days.
Given that it has been Republicans who eschew discussion and compromise, if Jeb actually meant what he said, he'd be calling them to account - which is exactly what needs to happen for Washington to make the kinds of changes he is suggesting he supports. THAT would be real leadership!