Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reflections on the Bush family and the Reasonable Gentleman Syndrome it embodies

The Bush family is in the news for a couple of reasons this week.  One, George 41 had his 89th birthday, and there have been undeniably touching moments of choked-up interaction with various descendants, including granddaughter Jenna when he read her a poem, and George 43 when they posed together for a photo.  Two, former Florida governor Jeb solidified his family bona fides by saying his dad, as well as Ronald Reagan, would not find a place in a modern GOP that had moved far to their right.  This is, of course, omission-riddled revisionism, but to have a prominent Republican so pronounce at this juncture in a campaign season, when an incumbent president that all of us to the right of center presumably want to defeat is cratering in the polls, gives fresh oxygen to a Democratic campaign that has, thankfully, been gasping, wheezing and turning blue.

The Bushes exemplify a number of classic American virtues.  James Bush was an Episcopal priest, religious writer and attorney.  His son Samuel was an industrialist (railroads and steel).  Samuel's son Prescott served in executive positions in a number of companies and became a Senator from Connecticut.  (He was also a Planned Parenthood board member, an early harbinger of the short-sightedness that subsequent Bushes would display more frequently.)  Prescott's son George served in Congress, served as head of the CIA, and eventually became president.  George, of course, is the father of George the 43rd president, as well as Jeb and two other offspring.  All of the above and several other family members in each generation graduated from Yale.  The family's pedigree became more established through the years, but the particular figures who made a national mark did so through their own achievements, mostly in private-sector endeavors.  The Bushes by and large have been temperate, dignified, civic-minded contributors to society's betterment.

George 41 rode a wave of goodwill and overall national economic health as he succeeded the game-changing movement conservative Ronald Reagan.  The Soviet bloc unraveled in a fairly peaceful manner on his watch, and he showed great resolve and skill as a leader in his conduct of Operation Desert Storm.  His undoing was a textbook case of the politically fatal nature of Reasonable Gentleman Syndrome.  After having elicited roars of approval with the "read-my-lips-no-new-taxes" pledge at the 1998 Republican convention, he sent his chief of staff Richard Darman to Capitol Hill to work out a deal with Congressional Democrats, in which revenues would be increased - that is, taxes raised - in exchange for higher-volume spending cuts.  Alas, Democrats being Democrats, the spending cuts never materialized, and the sense of betrayal among Bush's erstwhile supporters gained the momentum of a prairie fire.

What he had done was trust Democrats to harbor the same values - responsible governance, real solutions to pressing problems, a search for actual common ground rather than rhetorical cover for another agenda entirely - that he embraced.  This is always a terrible move.  In the end, though, you can't ascribe reasons for it that don't fit the picture.  Reasonable Gentlemen don't behave the way they do because they are stupid.  Naivete isn't quite the right word, either.  These people are generally veterans of hard-fought electoral battles and know that jockeying for partisan advantage is the way of Washington.  No, they do it out of an assumption that anyone who has made it to their circle is fundamentally decent like they are, even in hardball situations.

The most prominent common trait to be found in those afflicted with RGS is that they are generally decent people.  Nobody would ever accuse Richard Lugar, Orrin Hatch, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe or any of the Bushes of being people of unsavory character.  Their ineffectiveness as public servants, though, is rooted in a myopia regarding their mission.  The point of governance in America is not merely to make it safe for decent people.  One must keep the special nature of this country's essence in the forefront of all deliberations and actions.  That special nature is not guaranteed.  Safeguarding it means never forgetting that the Democrat party, particularly in the last 100 years, does not understand freedom, nor does it wish to.  It is driven by a mad utopianism, a kind of pity for most of humankind that, in its view, necessitates its own power over "the masses." With such an opposing party there can be no compromise.

Jeb Bush has lived the last three years like the rest of us.  He's seen the graphs depicting our debt and deficit situation.  He's aware of the companies and unions that have been granted exemptions to FHer-care.  He's seen the bankruptcy of Solyndra, the failure of the Chevy Volt, the corruption at the Department of Justice, the czars for everything imaginable, the national-security leaks, the way the EPA is putting the coal industry out of business.  The question of why he would still, at this late day, say that his own party is the source of intransigence in today's political climate can only be answered by concluding that it's been a long time since he thought about how viseral the hatred for freedom is among those whose zeal for its vision of fairness justifies any means necessary to achieve it.  With such types you do not sit down at the table and see what can be worked out.  You simply defeat them.

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