For the third time in twenty-six years, there is the frightening possibility of a Bush being a viable presidential candidate. The United States voter has a short memory indeed, if he or she will even consider casting their ballot for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, son of one-term president George Bush, and brother of the self-proclaimed ‘War President’, the disastrous George W. Bush.
Mr. Jeb Bush’s connection to these worthies in and of itself would seem to be a disqualifier, but on May 7 of this year, Mr. Bush stated that his brother George is one of his main foreign policy advisors, especially on matters relating to the Middle East. Is Jeb not aware of the disaster that George wrought there, or the cost in terms of human life, not to mention in cash? Or perhaps he doesn’t care about such issues; after all, most of those people killed were Muslim, and we all know that, in the twisted fantasy world of conservative Republican politics, ‘Muslim’ equates to ‘terrorist’.
While Jeb’s grasp of foreign policy is an area for close scrutiny, it is one aspect of his domestic policy that draws our attention today. The former governor recently endorsed what is bizarrely called ‘religious discrimination legislation’, laws proposed in many states enabling people to discriminate against others if their religious beliefs supposedly mandate it. These various proposals are frequently, oddly enough, proposed by legislators who purport to be Christian, although the version of Christianity that they follow is one that Jesus Christ wouldn’t recognize.
A recent article describes some such bills: “Other pending religious discrimination bills would enable court clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in states where they can legally wed.” Let us look back to an earlier, ugly era in U.S. history. Until the 1960s, inter-racial marriage was prohibited in most of the U.S. Would anyone think today that it would be acceptable for court clerks to refuse to issue a marriage license to an inter-racial couple applying for one? This rhetorical question is asked with some trepidation; members of the religious right may see such a refusal as acceptable.
Another troubling aspect of this is Mr. Bush’s apparent belief that state laws trump federal law. Should the Supreme Court strike down laws prohibiting marriage equality, individual states cannot choose to ignore that decision; once rendered by the Supreme Court, any ruling becomes the law of the land. The Supreme Court ruled in June of 1963 that public schools could not mandate or allow prayers. Justice Thomas Clark said that governmental neutrality in matters of religion means “protecting all, prefer[ring] none, and disparag[ing] none.” Since then, efforts to reintroduce prayer in public schools have all been thwarted, state laws notwithstanding. So should the Supreme Court allow same-sex marriage throughout the country (37 states allow it now), the legislation that Mr. Bush is currently endorsing would be meaningless. One wonders, then, why he is supporting it.
There really is no mystery to this. If a statement or policy plays well to the base that he requires for the nomination, then there is no limit to what he will endorse. The rabid right wing, which supports repressive and backward policies with its checkbooks, volunteers and votes, will eat up discrimination against those it sees as ‘different’ and therefore, ‘dangerous’.
It is difficult for U.S. politicians to learn new things. Prior to the 2012 election, several GOP (Generally Opposed to Progress) candidates sought their party’s nomination. Many of those now seeking it are reruns from that campaign. The winner of the 2012 nomination, former Massachusetts governor and elitist extraordinaire Mitt Romney ran as far to the right as was necessary to win the nomination. Yet he could not prevail in the general election. Mr. Bush seems to be following the same unsuccessful model. In 2012, it was thought that a slowly-recovering economy would be sufficient to turn the voters from the Republican-despised incumbent, President Barack Obama.
Today, it seems, the hatred that the GOP has for the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton (the horrors of another Clinton candidacy are the topic for a different essay) will be sufficient to deliver the White House to the Republicans. It didn’t work in 2012; it is unlikely to be successful in 2016.
Mr. Bush, and anyone seeking the job as president, should realize a few important aspects of the U.S. electorate:
* Opinions on marriage equality have shifted dramatically in a short time. Polls indicate widespread support; states that have put the question to the ballot recently have found their voters generally (and in the majority) supportive, and courts have overturned legislation preventing same-sex marriage, not only in liberal states like New Jersey, but in the conservative bastion of Utah as well. Change, never embraced by the far right, is definitely in the wind.
* The voting public does not consist of all-white, elderly, upper-middle-class males. No, sadly for the GOP, there are women and racial minorities to contend with, and people who barely make ends meet. They, too, are citizens. And as hard as the GOP works to disenfranchise these people, and make it difficult for them to vote, they remain a force to be reckoned with. Also, and this is probably a newsflash to these Republican candidates, there are an estimated 2 million Muslims in the U.S., many of whom are adults, registered to vote. Demonizing their religion will not endear them to the GOP.
* In order for any candidate to be elected to national office, independent voters must support that candidate. These voters tend to fall in the center of the political spectrum, not too far to the left or to the right. After Mr. Romney embraced the far right to win the nomination in 2012, he had to somehow determine how to please this population of voters residing in the middle. He was unable to do so; his efforts only showed his hypocrisy, and whenever he did attempt to take a more centrist position, his right-wing supporters (especially those with the bulging checkbooks) objected, causing his various handlers to ‘explain’ what he actually meant. Mr. Bush, please take note.
By all current measures, the U.S. is headed for one of its usual ‘Tweedle-Dum, Tweedle Dee’ elections, wherein most of the voters will look hard for a lesser of two evils. It is unlikely that they will find one, although there is the possibility that the overall platform of one party will be so much more odious than the platform of the other, that there will appear to be a lesser of evils.
But with the nation run by corporations, and governing done by special interest lobbies, whoever is elected will be indistinguishable from his/her opponent. It will be business as usual in the U.S., and that is a tragedy for the country and the world.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).