We certainly have a unique presidential election coming up, don’t we. After all, I can see Hillary Clinton saying something similar about her husband.
“I’m not going to go out of my way to say that, you know, my brother did this wrong or my dad did this wrong. It’s just not gonna happen. I have a hard time with that. I love my family a lot.”- Jeb Bush, Press Gaggle, Flagstaff, Arizona 5/14/15.
I think this is an answer that can evoke a degree of empathy and understanding. If you ponder the pendulum swinging the other way, there would be something off-putting about it if Jeb was taking every opportunity to diss the job his brother did in office, or if he was constantly second-guessing his father. People would see Jeb as a disloyal little shit even if they completely agreed with what he was saying. So, likewise, even if people think Jeb is being evasive or don’t like his answer here, there’s a little bit of approval mixed in with that. He’s acting like good brother and a good son.
And there may be times when Hillary resorts to the same gambit to avoid making strong distinctions with the presidency of her spouse. When you’re in a no-win situation, getting a little credit for not being a complete heel is about the best you hope for.
Yet, these kinds of answers are ultimately unsatisfactory. People want to get a good sense of where the candidates stand, and second guessing decisions that prior presidents have made is the primary way we can get some insight into what kind of president we’re thinking about electing. And there are some questions (or, I should say, answers) that are more useful than others.
In general, we should expect candidates to disapprove of unpopular decisions. When they don’t disapprove of them and say that they would have done the same unpopular thing, that’s news. For this reason, any candidate who said that they’d have invaded Iraq or left the banks unregulated or New Orleans’ levees unprotected or hired Alberto Gonzales as their Attorney General or made Dick Cheney their running mate…that candidate is revealing something valuable about themselves. And so we want to know where Jeb stands on these things.
If he won’t tell us because he doesn’t want to beat up on his family, it’s going to badly undermine his ability to establish trust with the electorate.
Hillary has fewer of these problems because Bill was a more popular president who people generally remember fondly. And no one expects Hillary to promise that she won’t fool around with the interns.
Still, there are areas where Hillary will be asked to explain how she feels about decisions that were made during her husband’s presidency. There’s NAFTA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Crime Bill and welfare reform and Wall Street deregulation and military privatization, and Dick Morris. There’s Bill’s handling of al Qaeda and Yugoslavia, there’s the Iraq Liberation Act. And who removed all the ‘W’s from the White House keyboards!!
That we have two major well-funded candidates with this degree of conflict is unprecedented.
And say what you want about Jeb’s position on Iraq, it’s Hillary who voted to authorize that fiasco.
All of this just makes me want to bang my head against a wall.
But at least I don’t have to answer the questions.