Is the US ready for a third president called Bush?

Out of America: 'Dubya' may have had his last spotlight moment. Now, it could be his younger brother's turn

Share

In the firmament of the Bushes, it was meant to be George W's week, what with the dedication of his presidential library and an attendant spate of TV interviews, not to mention the rare gathering of all five living US presidents and ex-presidents to celebrate the occasion. In an odd way, though, last week belonged to Jeb.

The term "library" is a bit of a misnomer. These peculiarly American institutions, covering every presidency since Herbert Hoover's, are indeed repositories of official papers, and managed by the federal government at taxpayers' expense. But their construction is privately financed, and for the average visitor they are primarily museums, designed – not surprisingly – to present the men who raised the money for them in the best possible light.

If you doubt me, try Richard Nixon's at his birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. True, the section dealing with a small matter called Watergate has been considerably beefed up, but overall the place retains an almost reverential air. And if the rehabilitation of the much-reviled "43" is to start anywhere, it will be at the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

On Thursday, even Barack Obama got into the act, describing Bush as "a good man" and praising his "incredible strength and resolve" in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Not a word about Iraq, and not for an instant would you have imagined that he won an election six months ago by blaming everything wrong in the country on his predecessor.

But right now, even on Dubya's big day in Dallas, the word association of "Bush" and "president" denotes not only him, or even his father, George H W Bush. Increasingly, the calculation involves Jeb, George's youngest brother, the former two-term governor of Florida – and probably, at this absurdly early moment in the ante-post betting, the bookies' favourite for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

America is supposed to be the land of opportunity for all. Increasingly, though, its politics can bring to mind Kirchners, Aliyevs and Assads. Once upon a time, US dynasties referred to financiers, industrialists and sports teams. Now, almost as much as in Argentina, Azerbaijan or Syria, they mean presidents. Between 1976 and 2012, not an election went by without featuring either a Bush or a Clinton in the primaries, and in 1992 the families squared off for the White House. What odds against a repeat?

A year ago, the prospect looked unlikely. Hillary Clinton was a visibly exhausted Secretary of State, telling one and all that she intended to retire after Obama's first term and give herself over to writing and teaching. As for Jeb, "this was probably my time", he mused wistfully in June 2012, soon after Mitt Romney, had clinched the nomination in one of the weakest Republican fields in memory.

But, of course, Jeb couldn't have run then. The Bush brand was anathema; to have offered the country the chance of choosing another one so soon would have been, if not hubris, then a guarantee that a reporter's first question would be, what was your brother's biggest mistake?

Since then everything has changed. Romney was soundly beaten by Obama, and these days it's not so much the Bush brand, but the entire Republican/Tea Party brand, well to the right of even George W, that's in the doghouse. Jeb, a fiscal and social conservative but a keen proponent of immigration reform, with a Mexican wife and perfect Spanish, now looks the answer to his party's problems with Hispanic voters, whose desertion to Obama sealed Romney's defeat. As for Hillary, polls showing 70-plus per cent support are a wonderful antidote to weariness.

And there's a further symmetry to a Bush/Clinton rematch. Even in her student days, her peers predicted that if America were ever to have a female president, it would be Hillary. As for Jeb, the smoothest, brainiest and most accomplished of George H W and Barbara Bush's children, he was always seen by the father as bearer of the family's political torch.

All that shifted, however, on 8 November 1994, when Jeb, the favourite, narrowly failed to be elected governor of Florida, while George Jnr, the ne'er-do-well, pulled off an upset victory over Texas's popular incumbent, Ann Richards. Six years later, with Karl Rove still at his side, Jeb's brother won the White House.

Now, maybe, Jeb's time has truly come. But on one condition – that America, unlike four years ago, is ready once more for a Bush. The problem, of course, is in the name. As Haley Barbour, the ex-governor of Mississippi and wisest of old Republican birds, recently put it: "If Jeb's last name was Brown instead of Bush, he'd probably be the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Then again, if it were Brown, we probably would have never heard of him."

Jeb himself does nothing to discourage speculation. He gives weighty speeches about rebuilding America. He's published a book on immigration reform, and is even allowing dirty linen (a former family maid who was deported for being an illegal immigrant) to be washed in public now, before opponents wash it in the heat of a campaign. A final decision, he says, will come after the 2014 mid-terms. As with Hillary, name recognition allows him to wait – and a Clinton run could silence complaints that Jeb is running on his name. Dynasties? Everyone does dynasties.

Except, perhaps, some complaints from within the family. Not from George W, who when asked last week for his advice to Jeb about 2016, replied, "Run". But Barbara, at 88 more than ever the outspoken matriarch, feels differently. "It's a great country," she says, "it's not just four families or whatever. We've had enough Bushes." But, this time, the son may not listen to his mother. And if he runs and wins, a presidential library awaits.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery assistants required across Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

SEN 1:1 Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified teache...

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

English and Media Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Scottish referendum: The people of my country have brought a catastrophe upon themselves by voting No

Simon Brooke
Young voters leave a polling station in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum results: The independence question is resolved for a generation at least

Douglas Alexander
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week