Sorry, but no:
I refuse to feel bad about Jeb Bush's demise. Seth Stevenson's Slate cover story is nicely written and Stevenson is well-meaning, but I don't care. I don't care about the fact that a rally Stevenson attended
sure felt like a last stand. Not just for Jeb Bush’s campaign, but maybe for Jeb Bush’s basic dignity as a human being. For the tattered legacy of the Bush family. For the remnants of an embattled GOP faction. Even, one might argue, for the quaint notion of civility in public life.I don't want to hear this because few families have done more to destroy "the quaint notion of civility in public life" than the Bushes. In 1988, George H.W. Bush's campaign took on a moderately liberal technocrat named Michael Dukakis and turned him into an American pariah, someone who'd allow scary dark-skinned career criminals like Willie Horton to rape and kill at will. (The Bush team blamed then-Governor Dukakis for a Massachusetts furlough program that was started by a Republican predecessor and was similar to programs in a majority of American states.) The campaign circulated a completely unfounded rumor that Dukakis's wife had once burned an American flag, while the candidate piously toured flag factories. And on and on.
George W. Bush's people conducted a whispering campaign during the 2000 South Carolina primaries suggesting that John McCain's adopted Bangladeshi child was a secret black love child. Four years later, Bush allies spread the lie that John Kerry faked the Vietnam War heroism that won him three Purple Hearts. (Jeb, in 2005, wrote a letter praising the work of the liars who helped bring down Kerry's campaign.)
It doesn't upset me that Jeb was brought down by the viciousness of modern Republican campaigning because his family helped invent vicious modern campaigning. Jeb wouldn't even have been in a position to run for president if it hadn't been for his family's tactics. Stevenson quotes a South Carolina voter who speaks to Jeb after a campaign gathering:
“I loved your brother. Can you be in that category?” inquired an older man, rather doubtfully. “Can you be a sumbitch?”Who created that thirst for blood? It was the Bushes. It was George the son and, as Stevenson notes, George the father:
... Jeb has never shown Poppy’s killer instinct. Former Slate editor Michael Kinsley once termed G.H.W. a “grandee with a switchblade.” You don’t get the sense Jeb is keen to shiv anyone.Jeb wanted brownie points for not being his father or his brother. Stevenson sees a fellow nerd and feels a pang of empathy:
Watching Jeb on the debate stage, I could feel the prickly heat bloom across his nape whenever Trump attacked. Jeb would rock back and forth, his shoulders bobbing, an awkward rictus grin spreading across his face. I’m quite familiar with these involuntary responses. I, too, am a man deeply averse to conflict.Two points need to be made here.
I spotted Jeb as a fellow introvert right from the start. Shy recognize shy. It must have been a singular torture to campaign for president with this personality suite. Jeb can’t saber-rattle like his brother. He can’t cornpone like Lindsey Graham. His battle with Trump was a classic clash of phlegmatic versus choleric -- never a winning matchup for the quiet guy.
First of all, it's not true that the enraged always defeat the even-tempered. Remember this?
If you're dealing with angry people and your inclination is to keep your temper under control, you have to radiate a quiet strength. You have to be like Barack Obama. He did it in response to John McCain. He did it in response to Mitt Romney -- and while Romney isn't a wild-tempered man, he's always seething with a rage that's just under the surface. Jeb could never manage to convey quiet strength. Even lightweights like Ben Carson and Marco Rubio seem to have greater reserves of inner dignity than Jeb.
But here's the thing: If you can't be a brawler and you can't summon a sense of quiet dignity, what you need to do is have the self-respect to leave an arena that demands shows of strength and find an area where you feel capable and confident and at ease with yourself. That's hard for some introverts -- but Jeb is a Bush, for crissake, so he ought to be able to spend his life doing only what he's best suited for.
Running for president in the post-Willie Horton, post-Swift Boat era is something Jeb wasn't suited for, and he never had the self-respect to walk away. It was impossible to avoid the sense that this man, in his sixties, still felt he had to take on this task in order to please his parents. He could have avoided the race altogether -- Mitt Romney was willing to be the gray eminence in the race. He could have dropped out early, like Scott Walker or Rick Perry -- there were already plenty of candidates in the race, several of them representing his own positions on the issues.
Jeb volunteered for this. He wasn't filling a need that would have been otherwise unmet. So his fall leaves me dry-eyed. If he couldn't (or wouldn't) learn to be a back alley fighter like his father and brother, and he wasn't strong enough to face down a thug like Trump, he needed to just go away.