Friday, October 30, 2015

Jeb Bush needs a haircut

Pete's Barber Shop, Pinecrest, Florida
There's a place not far from my house that has been graced by the presence of various celebrities, powerful politicians, and the like—both of a local and national sort—for near half a century. That place is Pete's Barber Shop in Sunniland (Pinecrest, Florida). An unassuming place with old-school barber chairs and what is now an antique cash register, the guys (and gal) at Pete's have been cutting hair for almost sixty years. And the walls and front windows are filled with pictures, mostly of local Little League Teams (which the shop has supported), but also of some of its more notable patrons.

Included in the last are the Bushes, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, along with current presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. In fact, Jeb was pretty much a regular at Pete's when he lived in Miami in the 80's and 90's. I know this because I saw him there many times. And after becoming Governor of Florida, word has it that he still went by Pete's when he happened to be in town.

This isn't about Pete's Barber Shop, however. I'm telling this tale for the purposes of explaining something about Jeb Bush that I think few people really get, or at least may have forgotten: he's a down-to-earth, well-grounded kind of guy. He's a decent guy, at least with respect to the vast majority of politicians and wealthy, powerful people immersed in politics out there. And he doesn't depend on four hundred dollar haircuts or image consultants—or never has in the past—to accomplish his goals, whether those goals were becoming "very wealthy" or forging a political career for himself in the State of Florida.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying Jeb Bush didn't use his connections to do these things, to get were he is today, because he most certainly did. Sometimes, as the above piece from the Miami New Times notes, he used them unintentionally, or maybe it's better to say that they used him. But of course, that was a long time ago. Jeb's goals of being a self-made man are a thing of the past; at some point his political connections and ambitions took over, whether that's what he truly wanted or not.

And if you look back at his campaigns for governor, they were not the campaigns of a media-savvy, slick politician looking to score points and win votes through any means necessary. They were, in fact, quite dull campaigns built around—of all things—the issues and the idea that Jeb Bush was a serious-minded guy who would simply get things done.

I have to admit, I wasn't a fan of Jeb Bush when he first ran for office. And maybe that's because I was much younger then and found him boring and uninspiring. But I was obviously in the minority, as Bush cruised to victory in both the 1998 and 2002 elections. As Governor, Jeb Bush was very effective, there's no way around it. In particular, he proved to be a master of crisis management, especially with regard to hurricanes and their aftermath. To this day, I believe Jeb Bush would be the ideal person to head up FEMA, because he truly excels at this sort of stuff.

With all of this in mind, the reasons for Jeb Bush's current struggles in his campaign for the Republican nomination come into focus: he's no good at gamesmanship. He never has been. As he says, he's "not a soundbite guy." That's not his strength, and it's little wonder that his attempt to score points in such a manner by taking a pot shot at Marco Rubio in the last debate failed miserably. After Jeb Bush chastised Rubio for missing Senate votes, Rubio responded with this:
I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record; the only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that it’s going to help you.
And that was the end of that because Bush had no real response. The reason he didn't is because Rubio was exactly right: someone convinced Bush to take this shot, even though doing so was way out of character for him. And chances are, Rubio knows exactly who in the Jeb Bush campaign did the convincing. Rubio's retort was, I think, a seriously personal barb. He not only dressed Bush down with his rebuttal, he rather pointedly told Jeb that his (Jeb's) advisers were not doing him any favors.

The problem here is that Jeb Bush is simply not equipped for this kind of political race. It's possible that of all the candidates—on both sides—he might be the best person for the job. He knows how to govern, he's smart, he's serious, and he knows when to compromise. But he's not going to win this nomination contest unless several other candidates—including Rubio—see their campaigns completely collapse from scandal or the like.

And in Jeb Bush's heart of hearts, I think he knows this, all too well. He's putting on a brave face, telling his people that he's still in this, that he'll find a way through, but that's just face-saving talk. He doesn't want to let his supporters down, I am sure, but even they are starting to realize the truth here.

Jeb's a good guy, he's had a nice political career, but for all intents and purposes it is over. He should get it over with and withdraw, go do the other "cool things [he] could be doing instead." I'm sure the crowd at Pete's would love to see him again.


  1. Freudianesque subliminal slip, maybe, but in the phrase that led up to the "Cool things to do" statement, Jeb said quite literally, "I don't want to be elected President."

    That's his own brain trying to tell him what's going on here.

    In Rocky terms, he does NOT have the Eye of the Tiger.

  2. It sounds like he's too decent a guy to be a good president, and his presidency would end up like Carter's.