Why Am I Fond of Jeb Bush

Here is a good reason–he is really smart and we need a really smart person to lead the right and lead the country:

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush flew in Ivy League social scientists for daylong seminars with his staff and carved out time for immersive brainstorming sessions he called “think weeks.”

A voracious reader, he maintains a queue of 25 volumes on his Kindle (George Gilder’s “Knowledge and Power” among them, he said) and routinely sends fan mail to his favorite authors.

A self-described nerd, he is known to travel with policy journals and send all-hours inquiries to think tanks. (A sample Bush question: What are the top five ways to achieve 4 percent economic growth?)

[. . .]

“He’s not interested in proving some sort of conservative point that less government is better, though he might believe that,” said Philip K. Howard, the author of influential books about law and government, who has spoken frequently with Mr. Bush. “In all of my dealings with him, he’s interested in how you make government deliver effectively. What are the incentives? How do you hold people accountable?” He added: “These are the discussions, frankly, that you want government leaders to have.”

Friends and former aides have variously described him as a “policy wonk,” an “ideas junkie” and, as Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called him, “a top-drawer intellect.”

[. . .]

[Bush] created a speakers series, inviting Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, and Virginia Postrel, a prominent cultural writer, to the Statehouse to speak to his cabinet. And he participated in an informal staff book club that churned through works of literary fiction, like Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” and sociological tracts, including Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.”

The approach, aides said, suffused his government, which became a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs. They included assigning A through F grades to public schools, offering performance bonuses to government workers, privatizing many public services and, through billions of dollars in land purchases, locking in the conservation of the Everglades.

[. . .]

. . . there is little dispute over Mr. Bush’s firm command of government’s smallest details. He surprised aides by reading voluminous bills in their entirety and embarrassed ill-prepared advisers with his mastery of their projects.

Allison DeFoor, a top environmental adviser to Mr. Bush, recalled having to abruptly cut short his first briefing with the new governor, about the Everglades, amid a battery of questions that he was unable to answer. Aides called the ignominious session “Black Monday.”

“I have never been brought up that short in 40 years in government,” Mr. DeFoor said.

Just as daunting: keeping pace with Mr. Bush’s crowded and sober-minded reading list. “I read more than one book at a time these days,” he said in an email. “I think it is because it’s easy to download books on Kindle.”

Colleagues try their best. After she was repeatedly asked by Mr. Bush what she was reading, Toni Jennings, one of his lieutenant governors, scaled back her consumption of page-turning thrillers by James Patterson and Harlan Coben.

Instead, she reluctantly switched over to her boss’s brand of dense nonfiction.

“Sometimes,” she conceded, “it would take me a month to get through those books.”

To be sure, there is an awful lot of effort in the article to contrast Jeb Bush with George W. Bush in a way that makes the latter look stupid, though that characterization may be entirely unwarranted. (See also this.) But putting that aside, it appears utterly incontrovertible that Jeb Bush is indeed a “top-drawer intellect,” which as far as I am concerned, makes it all the more imperative that he run for the presidency. After five and a half years of an administration led by a president who is undoubtedly intelligent, but one who is utterly detached from the details of government, it certainly would be nice to have a president who demonstrates an total command of the details of government while at the same time being bright enough and aware enough to keep an eye on the big picture. It certainly would be nice to have a president who is genuinely enamored of ideas, as opposed to one who is comfortable with ideas but whose main animating idea is his own political survival and success. And it would be nice to have a president who uses his considerable brainpower to fully engage with politics, as opposed to one who thinks he is too smart for politics and politicians and the gritty work of government–and thus ends up presiding over governmental disasters like the implementation of Obamacare and the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs, not to mention demonstrating that he is all but completely unable to interact constructively with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. (There is, after all, a reason why Democrats are so critical of the Obama administration, and when one considers why the administration is indeed so “flat footed” and “incompetent,” one might be tempted to note that “the cossacks work for the czar”.)

Of course, a Jeb Bush candidacy and presidency is not needed merely to address and remedy the failures of the Obama administration. It is also needed to address the intellectual failures of the Republican party and the right in general. A host of Republicans in general, and congressional Republicans in particular, appear to think that it is perfectly all right for them to have permanently left their thinking caps at the dry cleaners. A Jeb Bush candidacy and presidency may serve to bring some much-needed intellectual rigor and clarity to the right, not to mention a significant increase in the average IQ of starboard side politicians. The New York Times article I referenced above indicates that certain segments of the Republican party might not want a leader who cares about making government work just as much as he cares about making sure that government remains only as large as needed, and as small as possible. To them, I ask the following question: How many more elections do you want to lose, and how much more damaged do you want the Republican party’s reputation for competence and effective leadership to be?

I don’t know if Jeb Bush will ultimately run for president. But everything I see tells me that he has both the intellect and the temperament to change his party, the political movement of which he is a part, and the country itself for the better. There are certain candidates whose presence in the 2016 presidential race I would not miss. Jeb Bush is certainly not one of those candidates.

Comments

  1. For what it’s worth, I recently discussed Jeb Bush with an academic in Florida who had interacted with him and clearly had a high opinion of him. I don’t know if he would make a good president, but I think he would be a more interesting person to talk with than most of the other likely candidates.

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