Poor Brother Jeb

Published in The Express Tribune

Before it all began, George W. once said, ‘I recognise what my talents are and my weaknesses are. I don’t get hung up on it. Being George Bush’s son has its pluses and minuses in some people’s minds. In my mind, it’s a plus.’ But what of being his brother?

Jeb, the nominal Abel to George’s Cain, wants to be President of the United States — but it seems the line ends there. Jeb’s gone to Europe, but it seems the Europeans were plain nasty. He’s reached out to his party core — the lean, mean Tea Partiers — but they think he’s another fat boy from the city. Even his own mother can’t cut him a break. ‘We’ve had enough Bushes,’ Barbara says. The world agrees.

Of course, popular opinion — i.e. the majority vote — has seldom held the Bushes back: that’s one of the Pluses. And Jeb’s not quite the flaming disaster his brother was either, even before Georgie swaggered into the White House.

After making investments via Salem bin Laden, Osama’s half-brother, Junior ran his oil company, Arbusto, into the ground. He then merged Arbusto with Spectrum 7, which also flopped — despite a surprise contract for drilling off the coast of Bahrain. Once again, Junior was rescued out of nowhere, this time by Harken Energy.

But Junior was King Midas in reverse: all he touched turned to dust. After a shady stock sell a week before Harken bellied up, the S.E.C. had no choice but to investigate the sitting president’s son. Themes that defined W.’s era — greed, graft, and Arab buddies — were evident years before he met his crazy cabalists Rummy and Cheney.

By comparison, Jeb is cleaner. There was that strange business of defrauding thousands of black voters from voting Gore in Florida, but 2000 is a year Americans would like nothing better than to forget.

And he hasn’t a bad resume: as governor, he’s done more than execute convicts, unlike Governor George. He’s a soft touch on immigration (courtesy a Mexico-born wife). And he’s supposed to be the smarter Bush, the sleeker Bush, the Bush who speaks in complete sentences. So why is he having a much harder time campaigning than W. ever did?

The answer is W. himself. Brother Jeb has been slapped in the face with Iraq more times than the brother that invaded it. ‘I would have [gone into Iraq],’ said Jeb, ‘and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.’

It may have dawned on Jeb that the thousands of dead Iraqis and counting demonstrated otherwise. It may have dawned on Jeb that it was Hillary’s war drums that sank her against Barry Obama, a gent with a winning smile and zero accomplishments in the public sphere. It may have dawned on Jeb that even demented Tea Party babies thought the whole thing a bad idea. Because the very next day, Jeb backpedalled, saying he didn’t do ‘hypothetical[s]’.

But the press wasn’t sated, and gave the younger Bush a kicking well into the third day, with Jeb ceding more ground. ‘Given the power of looking back and having that,’ he pleaded, ‘of course anybody would have made different decisions.’ Meanwhile, the world beamed images of a 19-year-old telling a sullen-looking Jeb his ‘brother created I.S.I.S.’ The pouting wasn’t presidential.

Yes, the press had smelled blood, and it piled onto the Smart Bush until he finally gave in. On the fourth day, looking like a man who had lost his religion, Jeb said, ‘Knowing what we know now […] I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.’ From somewhere came the sound of Dick Cheney’s latest artificial heart exploding.

All this is deeply distressing to the right: in 2016, Hillary is Gulliver, and everyone else Lilliput. That this bitter lady from the ’90s is seconds from the White House isn’t lost on the God and Oil Party — the only thing worse than an aloof Obama is a vengeful Hillary. Mightn’t Jeb at least try being the biggest, baddest Lilliputian?

Because, as of now, the G.O.P. presidential pool has more clowns than a circus act. There’s professional loser Rick Santorum, who’s invited such satirical headlines as ‘Santorum embarrassed for man introducing him as the next President of the United States’. There might be Rick Perry from Texas: mocked for his low I.Q. last election, Governor Perry has taken to wearing glasses.

Some candidates are more threatening than others: there might be Chris Christie, massive in dimensions both political and physical. There’s Marco Rubio, who is young, exotic, and utterly bereft of ethics. Gawker put it best: Rubio ‘is that rare youthful combination of un-telegenic bumbling incompetence and malign corruption only Florida can nourish to maturity’. Yes, Brother Jeb needs to up his game.

Before the base begins to notice: ‘He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush,’ snickers John McCain. During the fight for the Republican nomination in 2000, McCain voters were telephoned not to vote for a man who sired a black child out of wedlock (the McCains had actually adopted a Bangladeshi baby) and McCain lost the nomination to George W. What McCain ‘expects of a Bush’ is a mudfight. But Jeb seems more H.W.’s son than W.’s brother: rich, competent, and colourless.

As for our dashing Islamic Republic at home, Pakistan doesn’t seem to have much of a horse in this race. Lady Clinton will be predictably awful for the country, Brother Jeb unpredictably so. The Billary soap opera may not be as obnoxiously evil as House Bush, but it won’t be pleasant either.

Not that the world should rest easy: on Sunday, the Bush team unveiled their hero’s one-word campaign logo: ‘Jeb!’ a chummy exclamation mark where the surname should have been. We may be in trouble yet