When he was performing his Full Jeb of Sunday show interviews over the weekend, Jeb Bush got asked everywhere whether he’s running for president, and each time he gave the same practiced answer (not thinking about it yet). He also got asked whether his brother’s disastrous presidency, and the fact that Dubya left office with abysmal approval ratings (Gallup had him in the 20s for much of 2008) would be a drag on him. Jeb gave the answer you’d expect: history will be kind to my brother, I’m very proud of him, and so on. Of course it’s true that Jeb, what with his last name and all, would have to “grapple” with his brother’s legacy more than other candidates. But when we think about it in those terms, I think we overlook something important about how the Bush legacy will continue to operate on Republicans, not just Jeb but all of them.
I thought of this when reading Peter Beinart’s take on Jeb, wherein he says something I think misses the mark:
That’s why Jeb Bush will never seriously challenge for the presidency—because to seriously challenge for the presidency, a Republican will have to pointedly distance himself from Jeb’s older brother. No Republican will enjoy credibility as a deficit hawk unless he or she acknowledges that George W. Bush squandered the budget surplus he inherited. No Republican will be able to promise foreign-policy competence unless he or she acknowledges the Bush administration’s disastrous mismanagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. It won’t be enough for a candidate merely to keep his or her distance from W. John McCain and Mitt Romney tried that, and they failed because the Obama campaign hung Bush around their neck every chance it got. To seriously compete, the next Republican candidate for president will have to preempt that Democratic line of attack by repudiating key aspects of Bush’s legacy. Jeb Bush would find that excruciatingly hard even if he wanted to. And as his interviews Sunday make clear, he doesn’t even want to try.
The focus on ideas like credibility and pre-empting attacks makes it seem as though this is really an issue of rhetoric and positioning, but it’s more than that. Let’s go through point by point. Does a Republican need to establish credibility as a deficit hawk? No, because the definition of deficit hawkery is endlessly malleable; Republicans who want to give huge tax cuts to the rich and increase military spending pretend to be deficit hawks just by saying “We need to rein in entitlements,” and people in the press believe them. Nobody voted for Barack Obama because they didn’t think Mitt Romney was enough of a legitimate deficit hawk. Does the next Republican candidate need to promise foreign-policy competence? Ask Michael Dukakis how important establishing your competence is to winning the White House. And did McCain and Romney lose because they didn’t create enough distance between themselves and Bush by not repudiating parts of his legacy?
Ah, here’s where it gets tricky. What, exactly, should they have repudiated, or should future Republican presidential contenders repudiate? Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy that helped explode the deficit? His military adventurism? Appointing right-wing judges? Undermining environmental and workplace protections? The trouble is that those things are central to conservative ideology as it exists today. During much of the Bush years, Republicans controlled all three branches of government, and got pretty much everything they had ever wanted. You can tweak Bush’s legacy around the edges, but if you don’t believe in nearly everything he did, you aren’t really a Republican.
This reminds me of a terrific piece this magazine ran about the Iraq War in the fall of 2005 by Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias called “The Competence Dodge.” Their argument was that while the Bush administration was most certainly screwing up the war, even if they had been more competent, it would only have made a small difference. The problem wasn’t the details of the execution; the problem was that invading Iraq was a terrible idea. The same is true of the Bush administration more broadly. Yes, they screwed some things up. But on the whole, the problems sprang from their goals. The people who run for the Republican nomination in 2016 are going to share those goals, and the Democrats will once again say “You just want to take us back to the Bush years.” That will be true whether any of them are named Bush or not.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 12, 2013
You have to admire, in a sick sort of way, any politician that gets caught mispositioning him- or herself on a major issue and then just quickly flip-flops and denies it. Mitt Romney, to the surprise of many of us, managed this maneuver (denouncing Obamacare and then denying any contradiction with his own authorship of the state health reform initiative it was based upon) for two solid years.
Can Jeb Bush do the same with the immigration issue? He’s sure trying, as explained by TPM’s Benjy Sarlin:
Jeb Bush completed a whirlwind one-week journey on immigration on Sunday, praising a Senate proposal to grant eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants after attacking the idea in a newly released book he co-authored that was itself a reversal of his past position.
To make a long story short, Bush’s new book (written near the savage end of the period of nativist domination of the GOP that began in reaction to his brother’s comprehensive reform initiative and extended throughout the 2012 presidential nominating process) flatly eschewed a “path to citizenship” for those who had earlier entered the country illegally in favor of a vast “guest worker” program that would legitimize most of the undocumented without granting them citizenship, thus avoiding the twin perils of “amnesty” and of cattle cars transporting millions of women and children to the border. Now Jeb’s claiming this carefully calibrated positioning was just a psychological ploy to lure angry wingnuts onto the paths of righteousness:
On CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Bush downplays the inconsistency between his book’s tough criticism of a path to citizenship and his apparent support for a Senate plan that includes exactly that.
“Well first of all, I haven’t changed,” Bush says. “The book was written to try to create a blueprint for conservatives that were reluctant to embrace comprehensive reform, to give them perhaps a set of views that they could embrace. I support a path to legalization or citizenship so long as the path for people that have been waiting patiently is easier and costs less — the legal entrance to our country — than illegal entrance.”
Yes, that’s right: Bush is not only (a) denying he changed his position, and (b) suggesting he was just acting as a shepherd to the wayward nativist sheep, but is (c) trying to take credit for the recent reemergence of comprehensive immigration reform as an acceptable conservative policy goal. That’s some serious chutzpah, folks.
The Romney analogy is apropos in another sense: before it became ideologically toxic, Romneycare was Mitt’s calling card, his example of successful conservative policymaking on an issue that had long been “owned” by Democrats. Much of Jeb Bush’s appeal (beyond the general belief that he was the most genuinely conservative pol in his family) as a potential presidential candidacy came from his theoretical appeal to Latino voters as someone married to a Mexican-American (his kids were the ones famously referred to by his father as the “little brown ones”) who also had close ties to Florida’s Cuban-American community. His brother, after all, had championed a “path to citizenship,” and he was generally regarded as Marco Rubio’s political patron. By choosing to publish an entire book on immigration reform at the very beginning of a new presidential cycle, Jeb drew a great deal of attention to his background on the issue, and thus had nowhere to hide when it turned out he had guessed wrong on where his party was headed on this subject.
So like Romney before him, he seems to have decided to just brazen it out, hoping his acrobatic changes of position become yesterday’s news if he decides to run for president. It more or less worked for Mitt–at least in securing the GOP nomination–but if Jeb does want to run, he cannot be so assured that he will face the kind of clownish intra-party competition that was so crucial to Romney’s nomination campaign. It would be particularly ironic if Jeb were to be pushed aside by his former protege Rubio as someone with greater credibility in both Tea Party and “pragmatic conservative” circles. But that could happen. George W. Bush’s “smarter brother” may have just out-smarted himself.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 11, 2013
Yet another member of the Bush family has demonstrated an uncanny ability to flinch on immigration.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, has long advocated a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, roughly in line with current thinking of a bipartisan group in Congress. Yet in a new book he has written with Clint Bolick, Immigration Wars, Bush has flip-flopped on the question of the path to citizenship.
“Those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship,” Bush and Bolick wrote.
That’s disappointing, much like the failure of Jeb’s brother George W. to push the bipartisan immigration reform bill his administration favored through Congress in 2007.
In interviews since the book’s release, Jeb Bush has retraced and gone back to supporting avenues to citizenship.
To CNN, he had this to say: “Today the only path to come to this country other than family reunification is to come illegally. We need to create another category of legal immigration where there is actually a line. So if you could create that through a path to citizenship, I would support that.”
Well, what’s it going to be? It’s important to know; Bush might be the next Republican nominee for president.
With Congress set to take up comprehensive immigration reform, there simply isn’t time to waste on waffling. The Republican Party and its leading figures must decide: Are they going to join the movement for reform or are they going to keep up their long-standing campaign to demean undocumented immigrants?
For the last couple of decades, the conservative demagogues opposed to sensible immigration reform have worked hard to brand this issue as one of law and order. They have made an epithet out of an adjective — “illegals” — as a way to characterize undocumented immigrants as by nature criminal and, as such, unfit for U.S. citizenship.
Most Americans know better. Bush knows better too. A good portion of the book shows how deeply he understands the nuances of immigration law and policy. He discusses the fact that it is nearly impossible for many of the people who wind up illegally in the country to arrive legally.
He advocates clearing up the backlogs on visa requests based on family relationships by changing those systems and creating new avenues for legal immigration. He knows that many immigrants are seeking work and calls for doubling the number of work-based visas for both highly skilled and guest workers.
Let’s recognize that most undocumented immigrants live among us to work; let’s also acknowledge that American employers and consumers have benefitted greatly from the low-wage labor these people provide.
OK, now we can talk about legal status.
Some Americans worry about the message it would send if we were to extend the possibility of citizenship to people who have broken the law to live in our country. One way to allay these fears is to reserve this chance for those immigrants with no criminal convictions, who don’t have problems with domestic abuse or substance abuse, who have a work record, who are able and willing to support themselves and their families.
In recent days, Bush has stressed that he doesn’t want to create incentives that might cause more people to come to this country illegally. But this too reveals a sleight of hand about what he clearly understands about the current immigration system.
If the U.S. truly wanted to eliminate the possibility of too many people illegally in the country it would fix the system, making it responsive to the needs of the economy. Allow those workers a legal way in.
The vast majority of people who are illegally in the country didn’t chose that route because criminality is their natural disposition. They end up in that category because there wasn’t a viable way for them to arrive legally. Congress can address this by reordering how and why visas are granted and holding businesses accountable for monitoring the immigrants they hire.
If there were a better route, a legal way, most people would have taken it. Bush admits this throughout his book. And endless individual stories of immigrants underscore that truth.
It’s ridiculous and self-defeating that the policy debate about immigration is sidetracked by the question of who among the “illegal” people is worthy of citizenship.
Congress needs to act wisely, and sidestep this silly argument once and for all.
By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, March 11, 2013
Between today and the first Republican primary of 2016, Jeb Bush surely will tell America exactly how government should cope with undocumented workers and their families. The former Florida governor, whose wife was born in Mexico, prompted headlines this week when his new book, Immigration Wars, seemed to abandon his earlier support for a “path to citizenship” in immigration reform and to adopt a much harder line — which he promptly dropped as well.
Unsurprisingly, Bush’s opinions on immigration are confused and confusing, not to mention ill-informed, which probably makes him a perfect leader for his party. He favored a path to citizenship for the undocumented when most Republicans opposed it; then his book warned that such a provision would encourage a renewed wave of illegal immigration; and now, as Republicans complain that he is out of step with their effort to court Latino voters, he is squirming away from his own book’s argument.
But no matter which direction Bush ultimately takes in the immigration debate, he can cite at least one Latino immigrant whose deportation he strived successfully to prevent, almost a quarter-century ago, when his father was president. The only drawback to this heartwarming humanitarian story is that the man whose cause Bush advocated was a bloodthirsty terrorist who was almost certainly responsible for the brutal murder of scores of innocent victims
In 1989, the Justice Department was seeking to deport one Orlando Bosch, a Cuban exile and anti-Castro militant who was then imprisoned for entering the United States illegally. Leaders of the Cuban-American community were agitating for Bosch’s release, although US law enforcement and intelligence authorities held Bosch culpable in many acts of brazen terror. Along with his suspected (and sometimes confessed) responsibility for various bombings and attacks on civilian and diplomatic targets, Bosch was believed to have overseen the sabotage of a Cuban airliner. The resulting explosion killed all 76 civilians aboard, including all the young members of Cuba’s Olympic fencing team, several passengers from other countries, and a pregnant mother. Corrupt Venezuelan prosecutors had failed to convict Bosch of this crime, but he publicly sought to justify the airliner bombing, almost to boast of it, when he wasn’t proffering unpersuasive denials. (He was also strongly suspected of running the conspiracy that blew up a car in Washington, D.C. in 1976 — an incident that killed Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his assistant, American citizen Ronni Moffitt, in perhaps the most infamous assassination carried out by foreigners on American soil.)
Miami’s Cuban leaders considered Bosch their greatest hero and turned to Jeb Bush, then a budding businessman seeking real estate deals in South Florida, to prevent his deportation.
The Bush Justice Department wanted to deport Bosch because, according to the FBI, he had “repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death.” Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, a Bush appointee, denounced Bosch as “an unrepentant terrorist.” None of this deterred Jeb Bush from lobbying against Bosch’s deportation – and in the end, from persuading his father to pardon Bosch, which meant he could live freely and comfortably in Miami until his death in 2011 at the age of 85.
Eight years later, with the help of the same wealthy Cuban-Americans who had implored him to help Bosch, Jeb Bush had become a wealthy man and newly elected governor of Florida.
Now Bush has adopted a hard line against those who have disobeyed America’s immigration statutes. But his outrage over the flouting of those laws seems extremely selective: For the ordinary worker with impoverished family, no mercy; for the demented terrorist with powerful friends, no effort spared.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, March 7, 2013
In what appears to be a remarkable about-face, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday stepped back from his previous position on immigration reform, telling NBC’s Today that he does not support a path to citizenship for immigrants who entered the country illegally. “I think there has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally,” Bush said. “It is just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law. If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.”
Bush is even more explicit in a forthcoming book called Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution that he co-authored with lawyer Clint Bolick. According to Elise Foley at The Huffington Post, who nabbed a copy of the book before its official publication date, Bush and Bolick write, “It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship.” They continue: “To do otherwise would signal once again that people who circumvent the system can still obtain the full benefits of American citizenship.”
Technically, Bush says he does support a path to citizenship, but only if undocumented immigrants return to their home countries and apply through legal channels. That is miles away from his previous stance on the issue. As recently as January, Bush and Book wrote the following in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):
A practicable system of work-based immigration for both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants — a system that will include a path to citizenship — will help us meet workforce needs, prevent exportation of jobs to foreign countries and protect against the exploitation of workers…
America’s immigration system should provide opportunities for people who share the country’s core values to become citizens, thereby strengthening the nation as have countless immigrants have before them. [The Wall Street Journal]
In addition, Bush spent much of the 2012 presidential campaign criticizing Republicans — and by implication, standard-bearer Mitt Romney — for taking a hard-line stance on immigration. Bush’s new position has angered at least one member of the Romney campaign, according to The Miami Herald:
“Where the hell was this Jeb Bush during the campaign?” said one advisor. “He spent all this time criticizing Romney and it turns out he has basically the same position. So he wants people to go back to their country and apply for citizenship? Well, that’s self deportation. We got creamed for talking about that. And now Jeb is saying the same thing.”
Asked to respond, Bush said by email: “I am not advocating self deportation. Read the book.” [The Miami Herald]
What is the former Florida governor hoping to accomplish? There was immediate speculation that Bush, who is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016, is seeking to place himself to the right of Sen. Marco Rubio, a fellow Floridian who is leading a bipartisan effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would likely include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. When asked by NBC whether he was running for president, Bush left the door wide open. “I have a voice,” he said. “I want to share my beliefs about how the conservative movement and the Republican Party can regain its footing, because we’ve lost our way.” When pressed, he refused to rule out a run. “I won’t,” he said, “but I’m not going to declare today either.”
Others say that Bush’s shift reflects the stubborn fact that the GOP is not serious about comprehensive reform, despite Rubio’s efforts and the appeals of party leaders (one of whom used to be Bush himself). “If I had to hazard a guess,” writes Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect, “this is another sign Republicans are moving away from comprehensive immigration reform, and towards something more piecemeal and less effective.”
And where does that leave Rubio’s proposal? According to Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo:
“Wow,” Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the liberal Center For American Progress, told TPM in an email. “For a guy who has been a luminary on this issue for the GOP, his endorsement of such a regressive policy is deeply troubling.”
The big question going forward, Fitz said, is “whether it cuts Rubio’s legs out from under him” by pressuring his right flank, or merely gives Rubio more power within the bipartisan gang negotiating a bill by demonstrating that conservative concerns about a bill are still a major hurdle that only he can address. [Talking Points Memo]
By: Ryu Spaeth, The Week, March 4, 2013