Life’s Just Unfair to Jeb Bush

Unless he walks it back directly, I suspect Jeb Bush’s reckless foray into cautious messing around with Social Security will soon raise comparisons with his older brother’s post-re-election Waterloo, his Social Security “partial privatization” proposal. Maybe reporters have already done that with respect to Chris Christie’s early leap onto the “third rail”–I don’t take him seriously enough as a potential presidential candidate to have watched this particular drama closely–but probably not with as much emphasis as they’d deploy with Bush, who should know better, shouldn’t he?

Unfair!

Similarly, as Ed O’Keefe points out at WaPo today, Jeb may be right smack in the middle of the GOP consensus in drifting back towards precisely those foreign policy and national security views associated with George W. Bush, but he’ll get special and not very positive attention for it, not just from the media but from voters who may not have a highly articulated foreign policy outlook but do know they don’t want to go back to 2005 or 2006.

Unfair!

Perhaps Jeb is so used to this phenomenon that he can shrug it off. But you get the sense he’s always resented questions about his family connections and wondered why people couldn’t see that he was totally his own man accomplishing his own goals in life. Here’s an interesting nugget from a New York Times piece today by Steve Eder on Jeb’s business career:

“By definition, every single business transaction I am involved with may give the appearance that I am trading on my name,” Mr. Bush wrote in The Wall Street Journal during the final days of his father’s re-election campaign in 1992, responding specifically to stories about his involvement with the sale of M.W.I.’s water pumps. “I cannot change who I am.”

The “stories” included business trips to Nigeria that were treated like state visits and yielded predictably impressive results in terms of government purchases of his partners’ products.

No, Jebbie could not change who he was, but he might have found a way to make a living that relied a little less on tree shaking and a little more on jelly making. People with extremely powerful connections that choose to “make deals” are going to be suspect.

Paul Waldman puts it more bluntly:

When he was born, Jeb Bush won the lottery. We don’t condemn anyone for winning the lottery, but we do judge what they do afterward. Some people win it, buy a nice house, and then set up a foundation to help other people. Other people win the lottery and blow the whole thing on hookers and cocaine. Bush’s history seems to be somewhere in between.

Even if you think that’s a bit harsh, questions about Bush’s business career are going to come up quite legitimately, and beyond that, yes, whenever he acts like his brother people are going to think about his brother, even if everybody else in the GOP field is acting like his brother, too.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.