A lot of people seem much more confident than I about what Jeb Bush meant in this rambling statement he made to Bloomberg:
“Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, similar to my dad, they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”
Streamline the statement, and it would appear the former Florida governor said:
“Ronald Reagan … based on his record of finding … common ground, similar to my dad … would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party … as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”
That’s how it’s being interpreted on the left, anyway. But Bush himself doesn’t even agree with that statement, as the “and I don’t” interjection makes clear. Instead, he appears to be agreeing with liberals that their common complaint that today’s GOP is out of step with Reaganism would be true, if only it weren’t false. Why he would put himself in the position of confirming a liberal straw man only to knock it down — knowing the confirmation would get more press — I do not know.
As we discussed just Friday, however, context is always helpful. And Bush book-ended the aforementioned statement with these:
“They got a lot of things done with bipartisan support, but right now it’s just difficult to imagine.”
“We’re in a political system in general that is in a very different place right now.”
Well, if Republican presidents used to be able to accomplish things “with bipartisan support,” and now that’s “difficult to imagine,” whose fault might that be? Bipartisanship requires two parties, so we can only guess he can’t see the Democrats going along if Reagan or Bush’s father were president today. Which is very different from the interpretation that today’s Republicans are out of step with their own predecessors.
The current president is a Democrat, so was Bush chiding the Republican members of Congress? Maybe, but that’s not necessarily what the rest of the Bloomberg report indicates:
Bush also criticized Obama for placing political gain ahead of negotiation in Washington — citing the failure of the president’s task force on debt and spending led by former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.
“If he was a transcendent figure, which is what he ran as, I think he’s failed,” Bush said of Obama.
The president “had a chance” to address the long-term deficit with the remedy that Simpson and Bowles recommended, a package of taxes and spending cuts, he said, but didn’t “for political reasons.”
“It was purely a political calculation,” he said. “He created Simpson-Bowles and then abandoned it at birth.”
In other words, you have an elder statesman of the Republican Party saying a Democratic president failed to lead on an important issue. Which isn’t much of a story — or wouldn’t be, if a certain elder Democratic statesman hadn’t had so much trouble staying on message lately.
As for Bush’s line about having “a political system in general that is in a very different place right now,” I agree. Once upon a time, both sides in an argument presented their solutions, upon which they could negotiate a compromise. Today, we have a House Republican budget that is dismissed out of hand by Senate Democrats; transparently base-pandering budgets from the president which Senate Democrats have declined to endorse; and the failure of Senate Democrats to produce any kind of budget of their own for more than three years running.
Do you notice a common thread there?
Senate Democrats, and White House aides giving them cover, like to blame GOP obstructionism for this abdication of their responsibilities. But budget bills are not subject to cloture rules. Harry Reid could bring a budget to a vote any time he wanted and pass it with just 51 votes, or 50 votes plus Vice President Biden as a tiebreaker. Of course, that would require his fellow Democrats running the chamber’s committees to produce a budget that could be voted upon.
Instead, they seem to adopt the stance Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner took earlier this year toward the House GOP plan on behalf of the Obama administration:
We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.
If Bush, or anyone else, wants to complain about do-nothingism and the lack of compromise, they ought to recognize that each side has to declare what it wants before the other can meet it halfway.
– By Kyle Wingfield