Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker has been covering the Bush family since she was a cub reporter in South Carolina during the 1980 primaries. She liked Poppy from the beginning, especially because, unlike Ronald Reagan, he didn’t suggest that it was past her bedtime and inquire as to whether or not her mother knew her whereabouts.
That’s fine. You know, Poppy always had good manners and a well-developed sense of propriety. The man sends something like ten thousand Christmas cards. I understand how a person could take a personal liking to Poppy and then go through the next thirty years feeling well-disposed to his whole family. Of course, it helped if you never looked too hard and found yourself suffering the wrath of Barbara Bush or her idiot son, George Jr.
Speaking of Dubya, he actually became the president of the United States. He did some things while he was president, some of which might have informed a normal person’s view of the political worth of the whole Bush Clan.
I became familiar with these Bushes, as their years in office coincided with my own migration to Washington. I remember a comment George W. Bush made to me during a one-on-one, in-flight interview. He said the toughest moment of his life wasn’t what to do after 9/11 but seeing his father — “this fine, fine man” — defeated by Clinton. I thought for a moment he might cry, but of course he wouldn’t.
What Kathleen is fondly recalling here is actually a moment that should have brought some clarifying terror. Here was the president of the United States freely admitting that watching his father lose the presidency to Bill Clinton was a more formative event for him than watching the Twin Towers collapse. Does Jeb feel the same way? What does that suggest about his motivation for running against Hillary Clinton?
We already have the example of George the Younger acting out some elaborate dance of revenge…against everything that Clinton tried to do in office…against Saddam Hussein who supposedly tried to assassinate his daddy.
How did that work out for the country or the Middle East?
If you want to know how Bush wound up reacting to the 9/11 attacks by occupying a country that had nothing to do with the attacks, this exchange with Parker helps explain it. He was more obsessed with avenging his father than he was with avenging 9/11.
Is Jeb similarly deranged?
But Parker doesn’t even begin to notice the implications of her anecdotes. In fact, she still seems to think that the most significant national trauma in recent decades wasn’t 9/11 or the debacle in Iraq or the drowning of New Orleans or the economic catastrophe of the Great Recession, but Bill Clinton’s infidelity:
After the national trauma of the Clinton years, during which mothers like me were forced to shield our children from the president’s deeds, it was a relief to see George W. and Laura Bush move into the White House. If nothing else was certain, at least no one would have to worry about blue dresses, knee pads and cigars.
It’d be okay to cop to having had a sense of relief back in January 2001 when the supposedly decent and upright Bush family reclaimed the White House, but only if you immediately followed that by admitting what a colossally bad judge of character you had been at the time.
Ms. Parker doesn’t do this.
And now comes Jeb.
Though I’ve not met him, I formed an impression of Jeb Bush during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa when I heard him speak at a small reception. Predisposed neither to like nor dislike him, I was immediately impressed. Without notes, he was eloquent, thoughtful, fluent in policy yet plainspoken, accessible and utterly free of artifice or guile. I remember thinking at the time: If the American people could hear him, they would like him.
Having just spent her entire column explaining how and why she has been so well-disposed to like the Bush family, she asks us to believe that she wasn’t predisposed to like Jeb.
And then she asks us to ignore her foolish relief in thinking things had taken a turn for the better when Dubya replaced the Big Dog and credit her estimation of Jeb as being “utterly free of artifice or guile.”
How about the idea that the Bush family takes the concept of settling scores a little too seriously? How about the idea that, plainspoken policy fluency aside, Jeb is in the family business of revenge? Maybe, just like his brother, he’s less interested in the consequences of failing to protect the country or identifying our true enemies than he is in making right the worst moment of his life…the moment that the Clintons bested “this fine, fine man” he calls his father.
But thirty-five years ago, Ronald Reagan was rude and condescending to a young Kathleen Parker and Poppy Bush “was courtly, kind, handsome and, most important, treated [her] as if [she] were his equal.”
It’s amazing how far some basic courtesy and respect can go. For most conservatives of her generation, Ronald Reagan is a hero and Poppy Bush is a goat. But, for Parker, it’s always a good time to repay the favor of simply being treated decently for five minutes more than three decades ago.
At some point, it’s time to look at the Bush family with clear eyes. Our country’s future isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones and we don’t need some Crown Prince trying to act out some Shakespearean vengeance.
We just tried that from 2001 to 2009.
It didn’t turn out well.