George F. Will: Jeb Bush’s hurdles

George F. Will

George F. Will

WASHINGTON — In 1968, a singularly traumatic year — assassinations, urban riots, 16,899 Americans killed in Vietnam — Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the ebullient Minnesotan, said his presidential campaign was about “the politics of joy.” This was considered infelicitous.

He was, however, right to insist that, whatever America’s vicissitudes, the nation’s premises explain its trajectory and validate cheerfulness. Similarly, after a 40-year-old Arizonan decided to try politics as a candidate for the Phoenix city council in 1949, he said: “It ain’t for life and it might be fun.” Barry Goldwater was right: Politics is supposed to be fun, and done right it is.

So Jeb Bush was pitch perfect when he said he would only seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination if he could do it “joyfully.” At this moment of some national troubles and much national hypochondria, voters need reminding that their country, with its many advantages, can get better by choosing to do so — by choosing better policies.

Bush was, however, inscrutable when he recently mused about the possibility of a presidential campaign that would “lose the primary to win the general.” This sounds like a baseball strategy that requires stealing first base. There is a reason this has not been tried: the rules of the game.

Still, it is bracing that Bush might bring to nomination politics the spirit of another son of a president, John Quincy Adams, who said America’s leaders should not be “palsied by the will of our constituents.” Bush, 61, is the tax-cutting, fiscally austere, school-choice promoting, gun-rights protecting, socially conservative, Spanish-speaking former two-term governor of the most important swing state. But for some Republicans, his virtues and achievements are vitiated by his positions on immigration and the Common Core education standards.

Regarding the former, Bush’s critics should read “Immigration Wars,” the book he co-authored with Clint Bolick of the intellectually impeccably Goldwater Institute, the gold standard of conservative think tanks. Bush and Bolick favor less immigration for family reunification (an idea opposed by many Hispanic activists), more for meeting workforce needs (high-skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants, as well as seasonal workers), and a path to legalization but not citizenship for those here illegally. If these ideas, put forward by persons with Bush’s and Bolick’s conservative pedigrees, are grounds for political excommunication, Republican presidential politics is going to be a sterile process of serial tantrums by veto groups.

Bush’s support of Common Core is much less nuanced and persuasive, and there seems to be condescension in his impatience with the burden he bears of taking seriously the most important reason for rejecting Common Core. It is not about the content of the standards, which would be objectionable even if written by Aristotle and refined by Shakespeare. Rather, the point is that unless stopped now, the federal government will not stop short of finding in Common Core a pretext for becoming a national school board.

Bush says “standards are different than curriculum” and: “I would be concerned if we had a national curriculum influenced by the federal government. My God, I’d break out in a rash.” But standards will shape what is tested, and textbooks will be “aligned” with the tests. Furthermore, has he not noticed what the federal government is doing, using Title IX as a pretext?

It simply states that no person “shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Based on those 31 words, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has stripped colleges and universities of a crucial component of self-government. Using ludicrous statistics based on flimsy social science to manufacture hysteria about a “rape epidemic” on campuses, the federal government is mandating the overthrow of due process in adjudicating accusations of sexual assault. Title IX’s 31 words beget hundreds of pages of minute stipulations and mandates.

This crusade against a chimerical “epidemic” is rapidly collapsing under the weight of its absurdities and of the frauds (hello, Rolling Stone) that moralistic frenzy begets. But if Bush does not see the pertinence of this episode to Common Core, which is the thin end of a potentially enormous federal wedge, he should not be put in charge of the executive branch. And this talented man will not get the consideration he has earned unless he can credit the intelligence and goodwill of critics who might reciprocate, joyfully.


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