Nancy LeTourneau brought my attention to a short quote by Dennis Baxley, who was in the Florida state House while Jeb Bush was governor. Commenting on Bush’s unconscionable behavior in the Terri Schiavo case, Baxley said, “If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience. He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.” An act of extreme demagoguery aimed at Christian conservatives is an act of principle? It was what he really thought? That’s not believable. He was pandering and he knew that he was pandering. Like all the other conservatives who got caught up in that, he thought it would please the conservatives, and the rest just wouldn’t care. He was as wrong politically as he was morally.
LeTourneau sees it as a sign of Bush’s fundamentalism. She especially takes him to task for being a typical conservative Christian: all conservative, no Christian. In this regard, she refers to Mark 2.23-27 about Jesus’ belief that proscription of work on the Sabbath should not be used as an excuse to allow suffering:
The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry;
How he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”
Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
But I don’t think that our man Jeb is a fundamentalist. In fact, what Baxley said sounds very familiar, “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.” This was always the argument for George W Bush: he might be stupid and wrong about everything, but at least he knew what he believed in! As Stephen Colbert said at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will.”
It’s not surprising that Jeb Bush would want this kind of narrative floated about him. For one thing, it acts as an apologia for everything he ever did wrong. But it is strange that this tactic works. Beneath it is this: you may hate things he’s done before, but at least you can depend upon him to do the exact same things again. Really?! That’s a strange kind of logic that Americans really are prone to.
But even more than this, it says to Americans that he is a strong leader. He may lead us in the wrong direction, but he will be in front of us and he really will believe. The problem is that this is all part of the not so secret American desire for authoritarian leaders. What’s more, a lot of people seem to think that a president heartily doing what they don’t like is a better choice than a president meekly doing what they do like.
It reminds me of a segment of the This American Life episode Swing Set. It involves multiple interviews with James Hackett, a Cincinnati doctor who was a lifelong Republican, but who didn’t want to vote for George Bush in 2004. He did eventually vote for Bush — but it was despite the fact that he hated everything about the man and his policies. Hackett — like pretty much all Republicans — was just thrilled with Bill Clinton in retrospect. And we all know that one of the biggest concerns that conservatives brought up while he was president was that he wasn’t authentic — Slick Willy. So at one point in the segment, Ira Glass countered Hackett on his nonsense about how inauthentic Kerry was by referencing Clinton.
Ira Glass summed up that segment, “In the end, he thinks the president will keep us safer, despite the debacle in Iraq, and despite the fact that he disagrees with them on almost every other issue.” We don’t need no stinking issues. We just need a candidate who will lead in the wrong direction just as boldly as he does the right direction. This is what Jeb Bush is hoping for. It’s a good thing the president has to have been born here. Otherwise, Vladimir Putin might be our next president.