In his efforts to break free of the legacy of the Bush 43 presidency, Jeb reminds one of Michelangelo’s slave statues struggling against their stone fetters. Try as they might, they remain bound to the stone from whence they came.
Whatever one thinks of W’s tenure as president, let’s all remember that he left office with a Gallup score of 34 percent, having touched 25 percent in October/November of 2008 — right around Election Day.
His last term ended in disaster. The financial collapse, the looming recession, and the residual negatives of the body bags that came home from Iraq seared into the public consciousness and made him one of our least popular presidents. His low point rating by Gallup of 25 percent is the lowest of all post-war presidents except for Nixon’s, at 24 percent, and Truman’s, 22 percent.
That is quite a legacy to live down.
And Jeb must live it down, explicitly. It is not enough to obliquely note, as he did in his speech this week, that “mistakes were made” in Iraq. He has to lay it out and put the blame where it belongs — on the commander in chief.
But at least Iraq ended well as Bush left office — only to be mangled beyond recognition by Obama’s total withdrawal. The end-term legacy of Bush 43 is dominated by the second most harrowing financial crisis in our national history.
Was it Bush’s fault? Damn right it was. He had been president for eight years. He had appointed the head of the Federal Reserve. It was his policy to maintain only the most minimal — and distracted — regulation of Wall Street. While he did make feeble attempts to rein in Fannie and Freddie, their mismanagement took place on his watch.
Understandably, voters would not rate highly his stewardship of the economy.
Jeb must get out of that shadow. The only way he can do so is to explain, in detail, what he felt his brother did wrong and to lay out how he would do better. Otherwise, his candidacy would be like Herbert Hoover’s brother running in 1940, eight years after Herbert left office.
Hillary would have only to compare Bill’s economic record with W’s and the results would not be pretty.
To be sure, it was Bill Clinton’s signature on the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, his approval of the deregulation of derivatives, and his go-go instructions to Fannie and Freddie that laid the basis for the crash. But all that is for the cognoscenti. To the average voter, Bush equals recession — in 1991 and in 2007-08.
If Jeb is sparing in his critique and fails to meet the concerns of voters head-on, he will pay the price and hand the election over to Hillary.
We must not blame Jeb for W’s failures. But if he does not recognize, admit, and enumerate them — and suggest how he would proceed differently — we are entitled to hold them against him.
We had better. The voters will.