Commentary Magazine


Listen to Your Mother, Jeb

If there’s anything that most of us had drilled into our heads growing up, it’s this phrase: “Listen to your mother.” Mothers aren’t always right, but it’s never a bad policy to listen to the person who gave birth to you and generally has your best interests in mind. So let’s hope former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was watching the “Today” show this morning, when his mother, sister-in-law and two nieces were being interviewed by Matt Lauer about the opening of the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas.

When asked whether her younger son Jeb should run for president, Barbara Bush, already the wife and the mother of presidents, left no doubt about her views:

He’s by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don’t. I think it’s a great country, there are a lot of great families, and, it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.

The immediate reaction from most of the press as well as the other three family members present seemed to be that this was “Barbara being Barbara,” as Bush 41’s wife once again proved she was the most candid and outspoken member of the family. But those promoting the Jeb Bush boomlet should listen to her.

Mrs. Bush seemed to understand something that other members of the clan don’t. There is something slightly unseemly about the idea that there is only one family that can produce a president. The United States isn’t some Central American banana republic where a few great names dominate politics, or at least it shouldn’t be. The greatest strength of the Republican Party is its deep bench. They have several strong potential candidates who are not linked to the George W. Bush presidency. While none is perfect, the idea of pushing them aside in order to give another Bush a chance, even one as talented and experienced as Jeb, would be a terrible idea.

The former first lady also seemed to have a stronger grasp of the political math of 2016 than a lot of supposedly smart people who have been speaking of Jeb as a potential juggernaut. She said he would inherit all of her husband and son’s enemies while only getting “half of our friends.” That isn’t a formula for success.

Although hers is a family that seems particularly dedicated to public service (her father-in-law was a U.S. senator), perhaps she has seen the beating her husband and eldest son have taken and doesn’t want Jeb to have to go through the same process. Mrs. Bush also seems to understand that its time for her party to turn the page.

There’s nothing wrong with great families, but while the idea of a Bush-Clinton clan rematch in 2016 might amuse journalists, it doesn’t speak well for our democracy that we can’t get beyond these famous names. It’s time to move on. Let’s hope Jeb Bush listens to his mother and doesn’t put the Republicans or the nation through another round of dispiriting dynastic politics.