As regular readers of my work know, I share a belief with folks like Florida scribe Shelton Hull that understanding how stories are told in professional wrestling can be key to understanding the ways in which stories are told in the political realm. One canonical plot device in pro wrestling, by way of example, is the heel turn. A face, or good guy, has a partner with whom he wins the tag team titles. They lose the belts and then the first cat’s partner “attains individual glory” by winning a singles strap. Angry, the first cat turns “heel” (or bad guy) on his partner, the new champion. This heel turn sets up a feud between the two; the motivation, obviously, is the betrayal, and fans theoretically will side with either the betrayer or the betrayed.
In politics, as in wrestling, motifs recur. One of them is that every so often a political figure will meet his fate when he takes an ill-advised airplane flight (and who knew, by the way, that the Wright Brothers would have such a political legacy?). Another is that politicians switch parties from time to time. These high-profile switches usually come with attendant rewards, as they give new life to the politicians who make them. For examples, one need only consider the examples of Norm Coleman or Jim Jeffords, both of whose profiles weren’t hurt by their acts of reinvention.
For all of their presumptive political courage, the fact remains that neither Jeffords nor Coleman are destined to be players on a truly national level. These are regional guys, and the benefits they accrue from their switch obviously come with limits. Certain members of the pundit class have speculated as to what the ramifications would be of a figure like John McCain turning Democrat. Sounds radical, to be sure, but the most effective political defection of 2003 should be that of the Fixer himself, Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Jeb has a number of built-in advantages making such a switch more plausible than it seems on the surface. As the nearly successful, virtually absentee campaign of Janet “Gassed Her Own People” Reno indicates, the Florida Democratic party grants a certain leeway to carpetbaggers and opportunists willing to run under its banner. The Bushes are not known for fixed principle; is it really such a stretch to imagine Jeb switching his position on abortion or Homeland Security enough to have him branded as a dangerous radical of the Tom Daschle variety? Given how folks like Lawrence Eagleburger and Poppy Bush were given such play when debating the finer points of the imminent ground-game in Iraq, one can imagine Jeb getting a lot of political mileage by embracing even the positions of the Democratic Leadership Council.
For the Bushes to pull this off, it would take a convergence of certain factors. A couple of fall guys; rube local Republicans who could read Jeb out of the party and declare him a traitor to his principles. Painting Jeb Bush as a softie on some hot button issue would make for amusing television; Jeb pronouncing how his positions have evolved in the face of certain exigencies, or that “mistakes were made” in his earlier political career, or that he’s looking to “embrace inclusiveness” would transcend the comedy category and allow him to reinvent himself as a plutocrat and a populist all at once.
It would be no great accomplishment for Jeb to write a book, less of one to hire a hack to write it under his name. Some amorphous tome with a bombastic title; a “Reinventing The Democratic Party”, or a “Politics of Hope and Change”, or, better still, “Beyond Compassionate Conservatism”. Al Gore parlayed such a prop into intellectual credibility, and it is no stretch to imagine a Bush book garnering favorable reviews across the spectrum of admissible political thought. The 2004 Presidential Campaign, if all went well, would be a good old-fashioned tag match: the Incumbent President and his mystery partner squaring off against brother Jeb and some attractive Vice-Presidential candidate. A respected figure of the center like Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia would fit the bill nicely. That would be an election with no losers and all of us — the American people! — as winners.
ANTHONY GANCARSKI, a regular contributor to CounterPunch, recently had his work recognized in Utne Reader’s “Web Watch”. Email him at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.