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“Jeb Bush Didn’t Build That”: He Made His Money The Bush Way, By Trading On His Family Name

The article of the day is this detailed exploration of Jeb Bush’s complicated history in business by Robert O’Harrow and Tom Hamburger, which explores Bush’s talent for hooking up with people who turned out to be fraudsters and con artists and looks at how he became rich during the times when he wasn’t serving in public office. What does this history tell us about the kind of president Bush would be? We have to be careful about how we answer that question.

Bush likes to tout his experience in business as one of the reasons he’s well-qualified to be president, so the kind of experience he had is certainly worth examining. But as of yet, he hasn’t really shared the insights he gained about the economy that are unavailable to those who have not been so deeply involved in the world of commerce. And while it’s certainly interesting that he found his way to partner with multiple “dubious characters,” as the article describes them, there’s not much reason to believe that he was some kind of shady operator himself. But he did make his money the Bush way: by trading on his family name and the perception that because of who his father was (or later, because of who his brother was), he would have far-reaching influence that could help other people make money. For instance:

For a time, Bush also sat simultaneously on the boards of six corporations, including health industry giant Tenet Healthcare, earning as much as $3 million in fees and grants of stock, according to a Post analysis of financial documents. He also made more than 100 speeches at $50,000 or more per appearance, according to a New York Times report.

In June 2007, Bush signed on as an adviser to Lehman Brothers, the financial services giant. When Lehman was on the verge of collapse during the mortgage-meltdown crisis the next year, Richard S. Fuld Jr., Lehman’s beleaguered chief executive, asked Bush to use his cachet and reach out to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu, then the second-richest man in the world, the New York Times reported.

That effort failed. When the London-based Barclays bank bought Lehman’s North American operations, Bush moved to that firm as a senior financial consultant. He made $1 million a year, the Times said.

I’d be interested to hear the conservatives who are outraged by Hillary Clinton making millions in speaking fees explain how this kind of thing is completely different. After all, in both cases, people tossed large sums of money at the politician in question not because of his or her skills, but because of his or her identity. Again and again, companies found it in their interest to have Jeb Bush as a partner, consultant or board member, and it wasn’t for his technical expertise in their particular line of work. For instance, I’m pretty sure I know about as much about manufacturing prefabricated building panels for emergency housing as Bush did in 2007, i.e. nothing, but nobody’s offering to pay me $15,000 a month for “advice” on their prefabricated building panel business, as a company called InnoVida did for Bush.

That doesn’t make him a criminal. If a bunch of corporations wanted to put me on their boards, where I’d make millions for doing almost nothing, I might take them up on it, too. It’s only problematic if Bush thinks that experience has really taught him how the economy works.

I’ve long held that there are few more ridiculous characters in politics than the person who comes before the voters and says, “Vote for me, because I’m not a politician, I’m a businessman” (there are a couple of them running against Bush in the GOP primaries). It’s akin to someone saying, “I’m the person who can fix your leaky pipes, because I’m not a plumber, I’m a podiatrist.” Bush isn’t quite like those people, because he’s not offering his business experience as the sum total of his preparation for the presidency. But if he’s going to say that his business experience gives him a valuable perspective on matters economic that will produce different decisions than those other candidates make, let’s hear how.

As of yet, Bush hasn’t released a detailed economic plan. He has said that if he’s elected, he’ll have the economy growing at a consistent rate of 4 percent per year, which would make him far and away the most economically successful president in recent American history. In other words, at the moment his plan is essentially, “Elect me, and it’s puppies and rainbows for everyone.”

It’s possible that when he finally releases the details, Bush’s program will be so creative and transformative that it will blow everyone’s mind — and only a guy who had worked making deals for water pumps in Nigeria and real estate in Florida could have devised it. On the other hand, it might be pretty much what every other Republican advocates: cut taxes, cut regulations, await glorious new dawn of prosperity. I know which one I’m betting on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, June 29, 2015

July 3, 2015 - Posted by | Economic Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , ,

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