By Nikhil Umesh:
Jeb Bush, the brother and son of former presidents, announced on Monday that he will be bidding for the top seat in the White House. But he’s finding himself in a bit of a dilemma re: his surname — one can’t simultaneously run on a name and run from it. Wars that didn’t need to be fought, thousands of lives lost, and the financial collapse of 2008 ring in people’s heads when the name Bush is uttered.
The United States might operate as a representative democracy, but this does not mean it is immune to dynastic rule. Of the last 34 years, 25 of them have involved a Bush in the office of the Presidency, Vice-Presidency, or Governorship. But does Jeb Bush’s track record qualify him to distance himself from his family’s presidential legacy?
He is running as a political moderate, towing a fine line between associating himself with the shift of the Republican party to the far right and sufficiently distancing himself from the likes of Democrat juggernaut, Hillary Clinton. However, his purported moderation is more rhetorical. Bush’s tenure as Florida’s first two-term Republican Governor (1999-2007) paints a picture of a hardline conservative rather than a political mediator.
The 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, at the hands of George Zimmerman sparked national outcry, igniting the Black Lives Matter movement which has been calling attention to the extra-judicial killing of Black people, among other manifestations of institutional racism. In 2005, Bush signed the nation’s first Stand Your Ground law. It gave Zimmerman legal entitlement to use deadly force under the guise of feeling threatened in public space. Bush still supports the law, praising it at a National Rifle Association meeting in April.
“[I]n Florida we protected people’s rights to protect themselves,” he said.
Like Trayvon’s killing, also well remembered by racial and ethnic minorities living in Florida is Bush’s “One Florida” initiative which put an end to race-based affirmative action in state college admissions and government contracting and hiring. And the results of his executive action from 2000 aren’t pretty. Mother Jones reports that “Black freshmen enrollment at state universities has declined under One Florida, from about 18 percent in 2000 down to 13 percent in 2013. (The state’s black population has remained stable at around 20 percent).”
One need not rely on Bush’s past policies to garner a sense of his politics. At Monday’s announcement, a group of immigration activists stood up during his speech, donning shirts saying “LEGAL STATUS IS NOT ENOUGH.” They were referencing Bush’s unwillingness to support granting citizenship and full rights to America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
To the surprise of journalists and the audience he responded to the protesters, guaranteeing passage of comprehensive immigration “reform,” while chiding President Obama for resorting to executive orders. Simply claiming that he will sign off an immigration law in some unknown point in the future seems to be done more for political expediency than genuine care for millions of immigrants who currently live under fear of deportation.
During Bush’s unsuccessful bid for the Governor’s office in 1994, he was asked on the campaign trail what he would do for Black voters, to which he replied “probably nothing.” These words echo in the wake of his now desire for the highest office in the land.
The state-sanctioned halt to race-conscious admissions and contracting, his support for Stand Your Ground and pro-gun policies, and an unwillingness to ensure that displaced populations are not relegated to the status of second class citizens signal to me callous disregard. Not political “moderation.”
As Obama finishes his term as the first Black President, we must remember that his election was heralded as a great stride in racial justice, to the point of playing into the myth of America’s evolution into a post-racial society. Yet, we can assume from the current candidates and hard evidence of America’s deeply embedded racial antagonisms that there probably won’t be a long line of Black Presidents to come.
The Obama era postures many, especially white Americans, to forget that Jeb Bush’s candidacy is emblematic of the oligarchy that structures American politics. Here we are, watching the brother of Obama’s predecessor aspire to be the 44th white man in the Oval Office.
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