He’s tall, soft-spoken, gentlemanly, and rich. He’s been elected to high office. He speaks Spanish. He’s a natural.
So why is Jeb Bush taking it on the chin, unable to raise his poll numbers more than a total of eight or ten points?
The answer is so simple as to be startling.
Much to the surprise of most, Americans, it appears, do have memories.
In the past fifteen years we’ve watched horrible things happen to America, to Americans around the world. To date, we’ve seen almost no one held responsible for wars, economic disasters, hurricane management (if such were possible), trade agreements gone wrong, an increasing income gap, and race relations hitting a new low.
Republicans and Democrats alike are angry that rules by which the country prospered no longer apply, to anyone.
No one is honest enough to admit error. No one is frank to admit that crime seems (statistics to the contrary) gigantic. No one is held knowing and responsible for the loss of billions of dollars, either in commerce, federal and local governments, foreign aid and backshish. No one can seem to put a cap on insurance rates. No one can find a sensible way to feed the hungry, and in fact we watch horror-struck as Congress keeps cutting food stamps and helpful programs for people down on their luck.
Infrastrcture is crumbling. Ice-bucket challenges, 5 K runs, bake sales, helping homeowners rebuild after tornados in the Midwest and floods along the east coast are the product of a corrupt and greedy insurance industry and the good old-fashioned American habit of helping one’s neighbors.
Republicans will tell you that government is the problem. Democrats will tell you that without the government matters would be worse. Neither party is doing anything about anything that matters to the electorate but pile up loot personally, write unnecessary books which earn millions, make speeches for which they (or their staffs) are paid exorbitant fees.
But keep your eye on Jeb Bush.
Long expected to be the front-runner and eventual next president, Jeb has been biding his time. And biding, and biding —- giving the entire nation an opportunity to remember, which should be the last thing in the world he wants.
Jeb is a relic. America wants no more relics. America wants action and youth and determination and certainty.
We’ve been exhausted by men in suits, men wearing gold buttons in their lapels, men wearing red patriotic ties, men who do nothing but show up at the appropriate place, time, and hour to nod wisely, promise nothing, deny earlier vows, and continue to get paid by the taxpayer for going along to get along.
Jeb Bush is the single most visible representative of a world of the past, a world of unfairness and privilege. His mother runs a close second.
But America likes to think of itself as a meritocracy now. You want something, you work for it, hard. Goodness no longer descends from family trees or the sky. People elected to office throughout the land are expected to be responsive to the people who voted for them. Not as quid pro quo. As their jobs. Elected officials are to follow the laws of the land and to be absolutely certain on which side of the bread is the butter.
Jeb as governor of Florida was selected to manage that state. He did, well. George W. was selected to manage the country. He did, poorly. The government, the F.B.I., the armed forces are all expected to protect our citizens. They have, haltingly, and with fear.
People no longer want to hear about hedge fund managers getting away with figurative murder. They’re still waiting for someone to go to jail for defrauding them of their life’s savings, or their very homes. These are not ideas that fade with time.
Nor will they. People have been hurt grievously. They have not been able to recoup, or to rebuild, or even to hold up their heads with pride as wrong-doers are punished.
With the best intentions in the world, Americans are still angry enough to want to see right returned to its proper place. They look at Jeb Bush. They don’t see Jeb, they’re simply aware that somehow he’s part of their problem. He’s a face and figure whom they can punish. It’s not done with spite or fury. It’s automatic. Something about Jeb reminds them of earlier, better times that are not promised to return. Reminds them of the thousands slain in Iraq and Afghanistan, on faulty evidence, reasoning, and ambition. Reminds them of the pain and poverty of recent veterans. Reminds them of the promises they made to their children about going to college and working hard that are now as empty as the sky above.
It’s important to recall that the Americans we are now discussing are primarily Republicans, a minority. The Democrats, however, feel exactly the same way.
Unconsciously, both parties have subliminally agreed that one more “old boy” is one too many. This silent decision isn’t really a conspiracy. It’s a decision born of need and dreams.
With Donald Trump’s caving into the Republican National Committee’s loyalty pledge yesterday, the “old boys” undoubtedly feel better about Jeb’s chances.
And if, in the long run, and it is a long run, Jeb does come up on top, the Republican party will end upon the bottom. They will have assured themselves of dissolution and irrelevancy, and they’ll deserve everything they’ll get.