No Need for Nostalgia?
I try not to be unduly inflammatory when discussing other Republicans, but these remarks, as published in the Washington Times back in May 2009, serve to remind me of why I don’t think much of Jeb Bush. Saturday, in stark contrast throughout a speech that stirred CPAC to multiple standing ovations, Sarah Palin mentioned Ronald Reagan, and alluded to him as well, but I suppose that in the minds of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, she’s just “living in the past,” like so many conservatives. The thing that crosses my mind as I consider his arguments of nearly three years ago is that what he then proposed was absurd, and as time goes on, his thesis grows only more obnoxious in my view. How can it be said that Ronald Reagan is irrelevant if he still evokes the sort of passion we saw in the crowd’s reaction to the mention of Reagan’s name throughout the CPAC convention? Maybe his problem is that the name “Bush” does evoke similar nostalgia.
I dare say that in light of all I know, and all that has happened in this campaign season, the thesis put forward by the former Florida governor is merely evinces the complete and thorough disconnect between the grass roots and the elites in the Republican Party. Consider what he said in May 2009, as quoted in the Washington Times:
“So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it’s great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause,” Mr. Bush said.
Here was a former governor of a pivotal state in presidential elections, whose father and brother both boasted of their ties to President Reagan as a matter of their campaigns, and yet now we should ditch all of that in favor of what? A Bush dynasty? Is that the legacy of the party to which we should now point with reverence? Please. Here is a man who tells us this as he sat alongside Mitt Romney who had been defeated only one year before, and he bothered to tell us who he thinks is no longer relevant? Please. Then I consider that Jeb has been out of office for a good little while himself, and then I consider that isn’t Mitt Romney’s clinging to him merely a nostalgic reach back to an earlier time?
After all, I know any number of people who wish to bring back the Reagan era in terms of our governmental affairs, and I don’t know anybody outside the GOP establishment who shares that same view of the Bush clan. Of course, over the years, there have been any number of people in the GOP who have made statements along these lines, and Jeb Bush wouldn’t be the worst or the first. I need only remember the man with whom he shared the stage on that day, Mitt Romney, who told us when running for Senate in 1994:
Of course, one wonders if Jeb remembers that Mitt said “I don’t want to return to Reagan/Bush.” In any case, for the GOP establishment to continue to attempt to ditch Ronald Reagan and his principles is one of the worst political moves they could make, and the sort of statements they make publicly help cement the notion that they’re not really conservatives.
There has been this sentiment withing GOP establishment circles almost before Reagan left office, and it’s based on the fact that they really didn’t like Reagan any better than the left did, but since he was overwhelmingly popular with conservatives, they decided as a matter of expedience to ride on his legacy. The problem is that they don’t believe in it, and they have a bit of a grudge too. Those around George HW Bush believed then and now that if only the elder Bush had been elected instead of Reagan in 1980, he would enjoy that position of favor with the American people. Naturally, that’s a preposterous proposition, and it assumes a great deal. For instance, the elder Bush would have cautioned against the Berlin Wall speech, as delivered, and he wouldn’t have been likely to walk out on Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Iceland.
This is part of the problem a fair number of conservatives have with the Bush family: There’s a sense that they believe it is their role to be stewards of the party, and the nation, irrespective of whether the American people agree, and they always conclude that we would be better off forgetting Reagan in favor, I suppose, of one of their family. At this point in history, however, I think most Americans, and perhaps particularly conservatives, simply aren’t in the mood for any more from the Bush family. While Jeb Bush may have created a cult-like following in some segments of Florida politics, that doesn’t extend to the national stage, and given the performance of his father and his brother, both social liberals when examining their respective domestic policies, it’s clear that conservatism simply isn’t in the market for more of that in its next leader.
Perhaps rather than suggesting that we should abandon the Reagan legacy, or that we should cease looking for his logical, philosophical, and political heir, the Bush family might wish to consider that they’re a bit stuck in a past when their opinions mattered to conservatives, when we still thought there had been a chance they might be more like us. After twelve years of Bush presidencies, I don’t know a single conservative, not one, who seriously suggests that Jeb Bush is the direction we should look for national leadership, although there is no shortage of Bush clan sycophants who can’t wait to push that theme.
You might wonder why I’m reaching back to 2009, nearly three years ago, to make a point about the GOP establishment and the Bush clan, but it should be obvious that after all the nation has endured, the Bushes still think they should be running things, and influencing outcomes. It was their guy who delivered the response to Obama’s State of the Union address this year, and Romney is their guy, inasmuch as they at least prefer him to the others, but what I frankly find galling is that while I am sure there are a few hands-full of people who can’t wait to see another Bush in office, I don’t know one of them personally. I’m in Texas, for goodness’ sake, less than thirty miles from Crawford, and the best I can get any Texan I know to say about George W. Bush is: “Well, he was good on national defense, but he was too liberal on domestic policy.”
Such is the legacy of Bush presidencies, and it is why I look askance at the proposition that we should ditch the legacy or “nostalgia” for Ronald Reagan. My question is ever: “To be substituted with what?” Clearly, Jeb Bush has his own ideas, but I don’t think a large number of people outside of Florida share them. More, I don’t believe he wants us to look all the way back to Ronald Reagan, because I think he fears how much the records of his brother and his father will suffer in the inevitable comparisons. Modern conservatives are not really enamored with political dynasties, and I think it’s clear that the nation is suffering Bush fatigue that will not be softened much or soon. Of course, the Bush family seems to know this, as they continue to groom a younger generation for eventual political offices, like Jeb’s eldest son, George P.G. Bush. Whether the American people will ever accept another Bush presidency is unknown, but one thing is clear: If conservatives are polled on which President for whom they consider worthy of nostalgia, it isn’t a Bush. As CPAC’s event demonstrated clearly last week, it’s still Ronald Reagan, who was clearly the most-referenced figure from American political history.