Extremism in the Defense of Liberty Is No Vice. But Extremism Can Be a Vice Sometimes.

bush_jeb Apparently, those of us who think well of Jeb Bush–and might even formally endorse his soon-to-be candidacy for the presidency of the United States–are supposed to be deeply upset by the fact that he sometimes has nice things to say (gasp!) about the Obama administration. I recognize that candidates and campaigns get nitpicked all the time, but this latest critique against Bush borders on the absurd, and in the past, Bush himself has ably explained why:

Bush sat out the 2012 presidential campaign even though many Republicans urged him to run. In a June 2012 interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, he lamented the “armed camps” that had gripped political Washington — and struck a tone similar to the one he’s adopted on the campaign trail this year.

“I don’t have to play the game of being 100,000 percent against President Obama,” he said at the time. “I’ve got a long list of things that I think he’s done wrong and with civility and respect I will point those out if I’m asked. But on the things I think he’s done a good job on, I’m not just going to say no.”

Of course, for those keeping score–and for those who need reminding–it is worth noting that Bush opposes a lot of things that the president has done:

The former Florida governor is hardly an Obama booster, of course. He regularly attacks Obama’s foreign policy and his handling of domestic issues such as the economy and the Keystone XL pipeline. He calls the Affordable Care Act a “monstrosity” that should be overhauled.

And of course, it is worth remembering that Bush is a conservative, and has a conservative record, as anyone who has been paying attention is aware. The fact that he doesn’t pose as someone who is “100,000 percent against President Obama” doesn’t detract from Bush’s conservatism. Rather, it shows a leader who is mature enough to admit when he thinks that the president has gotten a particular call right, while at the same time sticking to his guns when he thinks that the president has gotten something wrong. In short, Bush actually displays the civility that we say we want in our politics.

Now to see whether we will actually reward a politician for being civil, while at the same time, showing the courage of his convictions. I’d like to think that we will, and that if Bush is not the next Republican nominee for president, it will be for reasons other than his apparent desire to be thoughtful and grown-up about addressing the issues of the day. In the meantime, per the title of this post, let’s remember that while Barry Goldwater pretty much got it right with his famous “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” statement, Goldwater–and yes, probably Ronald Reagan–would look with scorn upon the idea that a Republican presidential candidate has to be opposed to absolutely, positively, indubitably every single thing that Barack Obama ever did since he was conceived in order to win the hearts and minds of Republican primary and caucus voters. Republicans have had a hard enough time winning presidential elections, recently. Is the party really in the mood to make things even more difficult for itself by imposing even more absurd litmus tests on its candidates?

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