The widespread conservative media freak-out over Jeb Bush’s potential presidential candidacy has mostly centered on his expressing empathy for those who come illegally to the United States seeking a better life for their families. But something else is going on. Some have accused Bush of fearing the parry and thrust of campaigning.
Yet according to The New York Times, Bush said his decision on whether to run would be based “in part on whether he thinks he could avoid ‘the vortex of a mud fight’ with a ‘hopeful’ message.”
“We need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point. . . . Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we’ve lost our way,” he said.
That’s not fearing a fight; Bush is saying he wants to do more than throw spitballs at opponents. Previously, he has said he would run only if he could do so with “joy” in his heart.
And that is the real issue. Some have come to identify anger as the default attitude toward government. You hear it on talk radio and read it in some conservative blogs. They’re listening to your calls. The government is becoming a tyranny. The immigrants will make you poorer. Often such claims are factually wrong, yet they are always asserted with emotion. Even when there is truth (e.g. the president didn’t tell the truth about Obamacare), the attacks become the totality of the message.
Some of the confrontational rhetoric is part and parcel of being in the opposition. But in the evolution of the tea party and the inside-the-Beltway opportunists who claimed ownership of the movement, tone — not substance — became the dividing line between them and the “establishment.” To be a “real” conservative, one had to feel betrayed by and suspicious of not only liberals but also Republican leaders. It is not enough to agree on policy.
But why make this a litmus test? Presumably, the GOP is seeking a competent standard-bearer to beat the Democrats and set a course for effective conservative governance. Neither requires fury.
Jeb Bush is not angry; he just wants to change things (education, immigration). Maybe that is not going to cut it in today’s GOP. But consider whether a demeanor devoid of anger and victimization is more likely to attract an electoral majority. Reagan’s sunny outlook was preferable to the dour Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush was the guy people wanted to have a beer with, not the stiff Al Gore or the pompous John Kerry.
Maybe in 2016 it will be the candidate without rancor, not the candidate carrying around the grievances of the preceding eight years, who will find favor with voters. Time and again, Americans have shown themselves to be forward-looking and optimistic.