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A misanthrope was mulling over coffee and Jeb Bush when the devil dropped by to chat.
“You’re brooding about the Bushes,” said the devil. “I’m here to muddy the waters.”
“Jeb seems decent,” said the misanthrope. “He was a solid governor. His father might be the most underrated president since Eisenhower. He’s raising money by the truckload, which you would expect the candidate of the establishment to do.”
“And yet,” said the devil, “He’s in trouble. Rudy Giuliani was also the establishment candidate back in 2008; and for all his truckloads of cash, he got fewer electors than Ron Paul. Jeb is a better human being that Giuliani, not that that’s a high bar. When Giuliani’s second wife learned about her divorce from a press conference, I nearly handed Rudy my pitchfork and gave him my job. Your country could have used a man that coldblooded for president. Still could, actually. The Giuliani fiasco should have ended conservatives grumbling that the establishment always wins. It won’t, since you people love to grouse, but it should.”
“And so I’m trying to puzzle out why Jeb is doing poorly,” said the misanthrope. “It’s understandable why Huckabee, Christie, and Paul are having issues, but something deeper seems to be going on with Jeb.”
“A huge part of it,” said the devil, “is that Jeb misunderstands culture.”
“How so?” asked the misanthrope.
“You either have a culture or you don’t,” said the devil. “One of my best inventions was the fraud of multiculturalism. One culture takes a lifetime of both studying and living to truly know it and be a part of it. But when you try to be a part of multiple cultures, you’re probably going to be apart from all of them. At best, you’re going to be an inside outsider. At worst, you’re a person without a culture. So, when Jeb Bush tells people:
I’m bicultural—maybe that’s more important than bilingual. For those who have those kinds of marriages, appreciating the culture of your spouse is the most powerful part of the relationship. Being able to share that culture and live in it has been one of the great joys of my life. We chose Miami to live because it is a bicultural city. It’s as American as any, but it has a flair to it that is related to this bicultural feeling. I wanted my children to grow up in a bicultural way.
“The base is really hearing that he’s not one of them and that he thinks being bicultural makes him twice as cultured as they are.”
“Interesting,” said the misanthrope. “So, I see some baggage that Jeb brings himself, but isn’t there some more that isn’t his fault?”
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” said the Devil. “Pardon me for quoting Faulkner. Jeb’s other problem is his older brother.”
“On the plus side,” said the misanthrope, “The base once loved Dubya. Republicans looked at Bush 43 and thought that, for all his flaws, he’s one of us.”
“On the minus side,” countered the devil, “the base came to see themselves in Dubya’s flaws and hated what they saw. They had the choice of self-improvement or breaking mirrors. I don’t think they’ve taken a good look at either themselves or George W. Bush since.”
“Out of curiosity, what should the Republicans have seen?”
“Seen?” the devil paused. “There was little to see with Dubya. Instead, they should have read. He married a librarian, which was a massive clue to his personality and to how he’d have been president. Bush has repeatedly said that one of his favorite books is Marquis James’s The Raven. It’s a biography of Sam Houston and, back in 2003, the annoyingly wise Rick Brookhiser immediately grasped its significance:
During the 2000 election each candidate was asked to name a favorite book. Gore said The Red and the Black, by Stendhal. Bush often said The Raven, by Marquis James—a 1930 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Sam Houston that was last reissued in the 1980s… One of Bush’s favorite stories about Houston concerns the crisis of the last years of his life, when the governor, a staunch Unionist, refused to take a loyalty oath to the Confederacy. Houston’s office was declared vacant, and after he left the state capitol, a crowd showered him with abuse. The lesson Bush draws from that story is the fickleness of instant verdicts and the importance of doing the right thing. It is a tale of heroic principle and of virtue rewarded in the long run: the political nadir of Houston’s life became a high point in the judgment of history.
“Perhaps Jeb should read The Raven, too,” the devil continued. “I think he’s going to need to remember that the nadir of your life might be seen in a better light after a century or so has passed.”
“You feel pity for Jeb?” asked the misanthrope. “Coming from you, sympathy is a surprise.”
“Jeb is going to be the scapegoat for Dubya’s sins,” said the devil. “When Jeb runs and gets clobbered in the primary, the GOP will have exorcised the Bush family from the brand. The GOP probably won’t win the presidency so long as they’re the party of Bush, and it warms what heart I have to see a decent man get abuse for the faults of others. And my dear misanthrope, remember your scripture:
And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
“I have sympathy for all scapegoats,” said the Prince of Darkness, “since I’m one myself. Like all of us scapegoats, Jeb will soon enough be sent off to the wilderness. But today, sympathy from the devil and two dollars won’t even buy you coffee.”