Now that Jeb Bush is actively exploring running for president, it’s time to remember that there was a time he was considered the true heir to his father’s legacy as the next President Bush. He was the smart one, the diligent and well-spoken son as opposed to George W, the wastrel that frittered his time away playing with baseball teams and being the goof-off. If the Bush family was being cast in The Godfather, then Jeb would be Michael and George W would be Fredo.
But the people of Florida didn’t elect Jeb as governor in his first attempt in 1994, and George W got elected in Texas. Jeb had to wait until 1998 and by then his older brother had already won the hearts of the GOP. All Jeb had left was to support his brother, win Florida for him in 2000, and settle for being the first Republican to win two terms as governor of Florida. His time would come; meanwhile he had time to polish his image as a nice, well-spoken, and moderate conservative, unlike his brother who was inarticulate, prone to gaffes, and who populated his administration with hard-core wingnuts like Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft.
But then fate intervened in the name Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was stricken with a heart attack and left in a vegetative state. Governor Jeb Bush took it upon himself to wrestle the state government into trying to take control of her medical care, going so far as to call the state legislature back into special session to ram through a law to keep her body alive even though no reputable medical professional said it would do any good.
Ms. Schiavo’s husband remembers Gov. Bush all too well.
ThinkProgress spoke with Michael Schiavo and the attorney who represented him in the matter, George Felos, about Bush’s presidential candidacy. Both expressed concern that Bush’s record was one of government interference and opposing individual liberty.
“If you want a government that’s gonna intrude on your life, enforce their personal views on you, then I guess Jeb Bush is your man,” Schiavo explained, adding, “We really don’t need another Bush in office.”
Felos described Bush’s actions interference in Schiavo case as, “An egregious example of the fat hand of government inserting itself into a family’s medical decision and the obtrusive hand of government trying to override their decision.”
“Through the Dept. of Children and Family Services and through the Department of Law Enforcement they tried in the courts to ignore the higher court pronouncements – this was documented in an article by the Miami Herald,” he recalled, though, “when local authorities said you’re going to have to go through us in order to get her, and the state law enforcement agency backed down.”
Though Bush, then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and social conservative activists protested that Terri Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state, an autopsy confirmed that she had been.
“It’s one thing to have your own personal beliefs,” Felos said, “It’s quite another to use your official powers and your official office to subvert the court and the lawful process.”
Michael Schiavo, nearly a decade later, said he believes Jeb Bush’s intervention was a purely political move and an act of buffoonery. “If you want a government that’s gonna be intrusive and interfere in your personal life, vote for Bush. If you want to live like that, want people to interfere in your personal lives, then vote for him,” he said.
Mr. Bush will have his own problems in running for the Republican nomination. He’s vulnerable on immigration reform — he’s in favor of being nice to the undocumented — and he’s a proponent of the Common Core education standards, which is despised by the Tea Party base who think it is some kind of government plot to make America’s children smart enough not to vote for Republicans. He also has his share of questionable financial dealings that remind people of the most recent GOP candidate. But his biggest advantage remains that he comes across as a reasonable, nice, and so not Ted Cruz on TV that he could win over even a wavering Democrat who isn’t sure that it’s time for America to elect a black man as president. Just as charming as Michael Corleone.
Which leads me to Paul Campos’s suggestion for a campaign slogan for Jeb 2016: “In five years the Bush family will be completely legitimate.”