For Jeb Bush, the Future Lies Ahead

I don’t know if this was the product of a decision by the entire Bush Brain Trust, including the family, of course, but also the vast if shadowy denizens of the Republican Establishment. But if so, it’s underwhelming (per a report from MSNBC’s Carrie Dann):

Jeb Bush says that he does not want to engage in “hypotheticals” about the Iraq war because it is a “disservice” to individuals who lost their lives during the conflict.

Asked by an audience member during a Nevada town hall about his interview on the subject with FOX News’ Megyn Kelly, Bush reiterated his claim that he misheard her question about whether he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq. But he disputed the questioner’s premise in asking “Don’t you think running for president is hypothetical?”

“If we’re going to get back into hypotheticals, I think it does a disservice to a lot of people who sacrificed a lot,” Bush said.

On Tuesday, Bush also said that he misheard Kelly’s question but added that he is unsure whether or not he would have made the same decision as his brother to go to war in Iraq.

“I don’t know what that decision would have been, that’s a hypothetical. But the simple fact is that mistakes were made,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the Nevada event on Wednesday, he said “to delve into [the past] and not focus on the future is where I need to draw the line.”

The whole can’t-criticize-the-war-without-criticizing-the-troops thing is hackneyed, cowardly, and also, like his entire rap here, kind of undermined by the fact that his brother the former president of the United State who supervised the war has been able to say flatly it was a mistake. And at least lately, W. did not, as Jeb incredibly did again today, retreat into the passive construction dodge of saying “mistakes were made.”

But more broadly, the idea that revisiting the past is something he’s just not going to do anymore because it inconveniences him is just astonishing. Does this mean he won’t second-guess the past actions of Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Does the present pass into the past instantly the moment he lives it, making this whole inquiry into his treatment of the past another thing from the past he won’t talk about? Hard to say.

In discussing this latest Bush family problem, Jonathan Chait says the Bush family is largely responsible for the entire Republican Party not having a “usable past,” which is why they so often act as though the words and deeds of Ronald Reagan are the first place to look for advice and precedents. If that’s so, Jeb is simply providing an especially embarassing exhibition of a party-wide problem. And it sure is ironic that a party so wedded to the polices and the culture of an increasingly distant past has to pretend it finds its inspiration in the future.

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.