Taking a page out of his brother George W. Bush’s playbook, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is trying to run as a “compassionate conservative”. Addressing the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday, Bush outlined the theme of his “right to rise” campaign. He told the audience:
I know some in the media think conservatives don’t care about the cities. But they are wrong. We believe that every American and in every community has a right to pursue happiness. They have the right to rise.
For voters with long-term memories, Jeb’s message seemed hauntingly similar to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative” rhetoric, during the 2000 election campaign. Once elected, George W. Bush’s conservatism conveniently dropped the compassionate part. Instead he left a legacy of tax cuts for the wealthy, a crashed economy, a war in Iraq built upon lies, and a catastrophe in New Orleans, where government inaction compounded the misery of Hurricane Katrina’s victims.
Jeb, of course, does not want to run as Bush 3.0, carrying with him the baggage of two failed Bush presidencies. Yet Jeb’s policy ideas are virtually indistinguishable from those promoted by George Senior and George the Lesser. While Jeb Bush’s rhetoric may be refreshing in the sense that even pretending to care about poor people sets him apart from the rest of the GOP field, he offers nothing to actually address the problem of poverty.
Bush criticized the economic opportunity gap, but his prescription for fixing the problem was basic Republican boilerplate solutions like cutting the size of the federal government and lowering taxes for rich people. He stated, ”no tax, no welfare program will save our system or our way of life.” Then, he added, “Instead of a safety net to cushion our occasional falls, they have built a spider web that traps people in perpetual dependence”, attacking the very programs that at least provide the poor with some measure of support.
Peel away a few words aimed at feigning compassion, and Bush’s speech was a call for the same government policies that crashed the economy in 2008. Washington DC is always wrong, we need smaller government, we need more tax cuts for the wealthy and oh, by the way, poor people just need to get married, stay married, and pick up their bootstraps. That was the meat of Bush’s message, which was heavy on words and light on policy.
Ironically, Bush delivered his critique of Washington solutions in Detroit, the city where Barack Obama’s auto industry bailout helped save thousands of American manufacturing jobs. Bush, incidentally, opposed the federal government rescue of the American auto industry. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see that Obama’s plan actually worked. The American auto industry is thriving today, and it owes a debt of gratitude to a President who had the courage to step up and help in a time of crisis.
Jeb Bush will try to spin himself as a conservative who actually cares about the poor and the middle class. To a large degree, the mainstream news media seems willing to amplify that spin. Voters, however, have seen this song and dance before. Hopefully, this time around they aren’t buying it.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.