I met Jeb Bush 22 years ago, and I didn’t like him. I was working for Miami Today and I was assigned to interview Jeb for a feature called something like Man of the Week. He was not yet the governor of Florida; he was a very rich and influential businessman. He and his partner, Armanda Codina, had developed huge subdivisions all over Dade County, and he was involved in massive government-sponsored housing projects in the Caribbean. One of his Caribbean associates was a Jamaican named Frank Hall, whom I had known briefly through our participation in high school track but that didn’t make Jeb act any friendlier toward me.
The Man of the Week thing was a kind of template; we asked everybody the same questions. They were the most innocuous kind of questions imaginable but Jeb bristled at some of them and refused to answer. His attitude was distressingly haughty; I could tell he didn’t think much of me or Miami Today.
Jeb (not his original name – he was christened John Ellis Bush) went on to get elected as governor and I didn’t like much of what he did. He is a hardcore conservative who favors stuff like school vouchers, which I regard as a thinly veiled attempt to reverse school integration.
So I was pleasantly surprised this week when Jeb came out in favor of common sense and sanity, delivering a much needed lecture to his wayward party.
He warned the Republicans to stop acting crazy, pointing out that his dad, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Ronald Reagan were far to their left politically. By today’s standards, the elder Bush was a liberal; he enacted progressive legislation (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act), denounced the National Rifle Association, raised taxes, and decided to leave well enough alone once he’d driven Saddam out of Kuwait.
Saint Ronald would also be a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by today’s standards. Reagan was a union buster who fathered trickle-down economics but he was flexible when it came to raising taxes.
Jeb pointed all this out and declared neither his dad nor Reagan would win a Republican primary today. He cautioned the crazies who now control his party that they’re heading for disaster if they follow their current path of blind aherence to free-market ideology and fiscal austerity.
And, since his wife, Columba, is from Mexico and his kids are half-Hispanic (and since he has enjoyed a long and lucrative association with various Cuban exiles), Jeb isn’t pleased with the way Republicans have been reviling Latinos, either. With Hispanics the largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority in America, it’s obviously not smart to tell them where to stick their votes. Jeb spelled out this fact of life for the xenophobes and bigots who have taken over the party of Lincoln.
Looking at Jeb on TV today, bespectacled and slightly graying, sober and sensible sounding, I wonder how much he’s changed since that day I interviewed him in his lavish Miami office.
Who knows? I might even like the guy if I met him today.
(You know who those dancers are in the photo above, right? Jeb and Columba with W and Laura, of course.)