Better could have been expected of Jeb Bush than his op-ed in Saturday’s Washington Post, which attempted to lay the blame for Donald Trump primarily on President Obama.
Here are his words. Interpret them for yourself:
“As much as I reject Donald Trump as our party leader, he did not create the political culture of the United States on his own.
“Eight years of the divisive tactics of President Obama and his allies have undermined Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive. The president has wielded his power—while often exceeding his authority—to punish his opponents, legislate from the White House, and turn agency rulemaking into a weapon for liberal dogma.”
Bush did go on to blame “a few in the Republican Party,” who “responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti=-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and anti-common sense.”
Even before Obama’s inauguration, there was Rush Limbaugh, the self-appointed doctrinal enforcer of the GOP, declaring, “I hope he fails!”
From Day One, the Republicans’ posture was to act out Limbaugh’s base impulse—obstruct everything Obama attempted to do, undermine his successes with sniping and litigation, and blame him for every ill fortune except global warning, about which, inconveniently, they are virtually all in denial.
Mitch McConnell came right out and said it: the goal was to make Obama a one-term president. The voters did not agree.
Obama’s reward for modeling his health care reform on Mitt Romney‘s successful Massachusetts example, an individual mandate, was more than two score of Republican attempts to repeal it, extending even to a petulant government shutdown.
That was because the Republicans dread nothing half so much as legislation that might endear the Democrats to voters, such as Social Security did.
Stricken with collective cowardice in the face of Tea Party spite, the Republicans abandoned immigration reform and denounced the President for trying to achieve something with an executive order.
Although Bush doesn’t seem to have noticed, the public has. The president’s popularity towers over that of Congress, which has tanked in the Gallup poll at 80 percent disapproval. Most voters would sooner have colonoscopies than say anything nice about Congress.
Obama, meanwhile, enjoys 51 percent approval, nearly 20 points better than George W. Bush’s standing at the corresponding point in his second term and only two points less than Ronald Reagan‘s.
But Jeb Bush still doesn’t get it. He appears to be in absolute denial as to why Republican voters were primed to reward a loudmouth, utterly unqualified anti-government bigot with the precious presidential nomination that ought to have been his.
Richard Nixon‘s Southern strategy planted the seeds. Reagan shrewdly cultivated them with his persistent denigration of our government and his dog whistles to racists.
Jeb himself is an apostle of the anti-government philosophy that Trump has turned to advantage. At his second inauguration, he fantasized about emptying the state buildings behind him. That foretold Rick Scott.
The voters most susceptible to hating the government and those who lead it are those folks who feel left behind—as indeed, so many have been—and eager for simple solutions like Trump’s. He is the whirlwind spawned by two generations of Republican propaganda about big bad government.
Jeb’s “solutions,” as expressed in the Saturday op-ed, are as simplistic as Trump’s. They’re vintage right-wing dogma.
“Let’s pursue term limits, a balanced-budget amendment, and line-item veto authority, even if that requires calling a constitutional convention of the states,” he wrote.
Only one of those, the line-item veto, is a potentially responsible initiative. The others are dreadful.
Had Alexander Hamilton been forced to deal with a balanced budget straitjacket, the United States would have been bankrupt from the outset. And its growth would have been as stymied as that of a family that can never earn enough to move from shabby rentals into their own home.
A second constitutional convention, especially one set up by the gerrymandered state legislatures, would likely make a shamble of the Constitution and especially of the Bill of Rights.
Term limits would do for the Congress what George H. Bush‘s invasion of Iraq did for stability in the Middle East.
Term limits, which took hold during Bush’s Jeb’s governorship, ravaged the Florida Legislature. Rank-and-file members became drones who dared not disobey the leaders if they wanted to accomplish anything in their eight years. It magnified the experience and influence of the lobbyists. It did not improve turnover, nor did it change the nature of those elected. It made the Legislature even more malleable in the hands of a shrewd governor, such as Bush was.
The nature of Congress is, as Bush does recognize, basically responsible for how poorly it functions. But that’s a product of the way its members are elected, rather than of how often they are re-elected. What’s wrong is not how often that happens, but how often there is no effective challenge from an opposing party.
Term limits don’t touch that. The cure is to get rid of gerrymandering and make the districting process as professional and nonpartisan as honest intentions can provide. That’s not impossible. Iowa did it. Florida’s “Fair Districts” initiatives are a good start, but only as good as the state Supreme Court’s continued interest in enforcing them.
FairVote, the public interest group founded by John Anderson, calculates that 85 percent of seats in the U.S. House are safe for whichever party already holds them. Only 4 percent are rated tossups. Thus the only action is in the primaries, where extremes tend to rule. Mark Meadows, the freshman from North Carolina who instigated the last shutdown, has nothing to fear from the Democrats. Those who live in his district cannot possibly punish his misconduct, and he knows that.
If Jeb Bush’s eyes were open to what’s really wrong with Congress, redistricting would be at the top of his list. Term limits would be nowhere on it.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.