Jeb Bush: Conservative or Merely Responsible?

 

shutterstock_296439938On the first post-debate flagship podcast, Peter and Rob proclaimed Jeb Bush’s record as governor of Florida as “indisputably conservative.” Conservative has two meanings. On the one hand, it means sticking to established and safe principles, avoiding unnecessary risk, and — essentially — “being responsible.” Most the elements Peter and Rob discussed about Bush’s record fit this category, and I agree that Bush was a responsible governor. In the other sense, “conservative” carries an ideological meaning, indicating a will to preserve the values that led to the Revolution against the King. These are traditional Germanic/English legal principles with a heavy dose of liberal Enlightenment thought. The distinguishing characteristic of this sense of conservatism is a wariness of state action.

Bush’s record in Florida — particularly in education reform, for which he is often cited as a major innovator — is a mixed bag, with some characteristics that appeal to ideological conservatives and others that favor the more responsibility-centered definition of that word. Bush was indisputably acting out of ideological conservatism when he ended affirmative action in college admissions, as racial discrimination has been a hallmark of progressives all along. He also made a real effort to break the back of the government-run school monopoly through introducing the United States’ first-state wide voucher and charter-school programs. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Florida found the voucher program violated the state constitution, and ended it in its ninth year. Bush then attempted to amend the constitution to allow the program, but was stymied in part by Republicans in the Florida Senate.

“Quit using public money to send our kids to private schools,” said Republican State Senator Dennis Jones, one of four Republicans to torpedo the amendment.

In contrast to his voucher program, Bush’s charter school efforts — which started before he became governor of Florida — survived the Florida supreme court and have proven quite popular. The charter school program is also, notably, much larger than the voucher program ever was, serving some 67,000 students today compared to the mere hundreds of children served by vouchers when the program ended. Unlike the voucher schools, charter schools are funded directly by the state, although they operate under a simplified set of regulations and are managed outside the “uniform” school system. They, too, are now under attack.

The vouchers and the removal of affirmative action are indisputably conservative efforts in the ideological sense. Charter schools are something of a compromise: they’re a responsible thing to do, but given that they’re ultimately state-directed, they don’t really advance conservative principles.

So — foiled on the voucher front, but with some success with charter schools — Bush then turned his attention to progressive “responsible government” solutions, the core of which is centralized testing and the centralization of state power over the curriculum. I don’t think standardized testing is inherently progressive or conservative, though having the state run the show is definitely not conservative. There’s a logic to continuing to centralize once it’s started, as failing public schools don’t disappear, as the students can’t leave, and without a set metric to define performance, it’s impossible to improve.

Fast forward to today. Unlike Florida, the Federal government has no assigned responsibility for, or power over, education. A principled conservative could take a principled stand against Federal interference in state responsibilities. Unfortunately, Bush has abandoned his Florida-specific reforms and has replaced them with his advocacy for a Common Core based program. This has put Bush is on the wrong side of ideological conservatives. Either he doesn’t realize what Common Core is actually about, or he’s being disingenuous. I don’t know which is worse (probably the former).

The best that can be said for Bush now is that he tried some ideologically conservative approaches as governor — and continues to talk that talk — but walks the walk of a progressive responsible-government reformer. “School choice,” after all, becomes largely an academic exercise if all schools are teaching the same federally-mandated curriculum.

Bush might make the federal budget look less horrendous — much as Gingrich did with Clinton — but it strains credulity to think his toe-in-the-water approach to conservatism is going to amount to much in terms of enacting its principles should he be elected.

Image Credit: Rich Koele / Shutterstock.com

There are 23 comments.

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  1. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    We confuse many things, but this piece brings clarity.

    The Bushes are people who use the tools they have to achieve ends they think are good. They do not think of the long term consequences , or the ability of cronies and corrupt people to ruin a perfectly good government solution.

    If we want better education, we need a better way to educate. Put it out for bids to the private sector. Kill the employment program for the government run day care that public education has become.

    No Bush will even be able to conceive such a change.

    • #1
  2. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    TKC1101: No Bush will even be able to conceive such a change.

    To his credit, Jeb made a mighty good effort.  It was the first state-wide voucher program, and several states have copied him.

    Practically, I think Walker’s reforms need to come first.  Fixing the schools will be much easier after you gut the teacher’s unions.  Paying for your opposition is a stupid strategy.

    • #2
  3. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Thanks.  Good article.  GHWBush said it all, “it’s that vision thing”  It’s too late for the good steward.  Too bad, they’re such gentlemen.

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Tuck: On the one hand, it means sticking to established and safe principles, avoiding unnecessary risk, and — essentially — “being responsible.”

    Thank you. I’ve been trying to articulate this for years. I know so many people who vote as Democrats who fit that honorable description perfectly.

    • #4
  5. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    “Conservative has two meanings. On the one hand, it means sticking to established and safe principles, avoiding unnecessary risk, and — essentially — “being responsible….”

    In the other sense, “conservative” carries an ideological meaning, indicating a will to preserve the values that led to the Revolution against the King. These are traditional Germanic/English legal principles with a heavy dose of liberal Enlightenment thought. The distinguishing characteristic of this sense of conservatism is a wariness of state action.”

    Excellent point.  Important distinction to keep in mind.

    • #5
  6. Tedley Member
    Tedley
    @Tedley

    My biggest complaint about Jeb isn’t issue related:  He’s doesn’t seem very sharp when speaking.  Even though it’s early in the election cycle, he’s already made statements which have been poorly thought out and required correction.  Don’t know what he was like as governor, but so far I’m not impressed.

    • #6
  7. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    My biggest problem with Jeb is his last name: it makes him unelectable so he’s not worth considering.

    • #7
  8. MBF Member
    MBF
    @MBF

    That quote from the state senator makes me want to pull my hair out. Apparently he believes employing government teachers is a better use of “public money” than actually giving families the education they want. Maybe the state of Florida should own and operate farms and grocery stores as well, so that “public money” isn’t spent at private businesses. Feeding our kids is so important, we can’t leave it up to the whims of the marketplace!

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Tuck: Charter schools are something of a compromise: they’re a responsible thing to do, but given that they’re ultimately state-directed, they don’t really advance conservative principles.

    Having a high school senior and an 8th grader who have come up through Colorado’s state chartered schools, it’s my experience that the only hope for an excellent publicly funded education is the charter system. In our particular case, we have E.D. Hirsch (Core Knowledge Curriculum) and what has since become Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Initiative to thank.

    Conservatives need to learn to exploit these openings. It’s very difficult to argue against excellence. Last year, the top graduate at my daughter’s high school was accepted at Stanford, the University of Chicago, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. She was awarded the Boettcher Scholarship and the Daniels Scholarship, the former full-ride in Colorado, and the latter full-ride anywhere. And she’s black.

    Liberals could try to shut it down, but they’d embarrass themselves. The state oversees accreditation of these schools, but otherwise has very little control (although it tries). State-chartered schools (versus District-chartered) have independent school boards, typically comprised of the people with the greatest interests at stake — the parents. Subsidiarity at its best.

    Every parent on this site should be advocating for rights to state charters — school choice. It’s finally directing our own money (taxes) in ways we see fit toward our kids’ education.

    • #9
  10. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Tuck,

    I live in Florida and did when Jeb was Governor. I’d say he was very responsible. If you don’t like Jeb Bush as a human being than you’ve got no heart. On the other hand, if you think Jeb is a Conservative or you think Jeb is a great candidate for 2016 then you’ve got no brain.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #10
  11. Jeffery Shepherd Inactive
    Jeffery Shepherd
    @JefferyShepherd

    I always thought of conservatism not in the discrete historical context of getting rid of a king.  Rather, I think about it as respecting the past, our current state, how and why we got there and being reticent to (meaning think very hard before, but not never) change.  Concur on the traditional values bit though.

    • #11
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Oh, and there was a quiet revolution in Colorado last year in the form of PARCC (Common Core) testing opt-outs. Parents at our school opted their students out at a rate greater than 75%. But, it happened in huge numbers all over the state and, as a result, much of the testing has been dropped this year.

    Now, what the College Board is doing to AP testing is another matter (see Wilfred McClay’s Imprimis entry this month). But, these successes with charters and opt-outs just prove we’ve got to push back.

    • #12
  13. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Western Chauvinist:

    Tuck: Charter schools are something of a compromise: they’re a responsible thing to do, but given that they’re ultimately state-directed, they don’t really advance conservative principles.

    Having a high school senior and an 8th grader who have come up through Colorado’s state chartered schools, it’s my experience that the only hope for an excellent publicly funded education is the charter system….

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that charter schools are superior to the standard alternative, the command-and-control public schools.  That doesn’t mean they advance Conservative principles, however.  They’re still state-run and state-funded.  The natural course of the evolution of bureaucracy will bring them back to the same place that public schools are now, all of which started as much more independent institutions than they are now.

    …Liberals could try to shut it down, but they’d embarrass themselves….

    Liberals don’t care about embarrassing themselves in the eyes of Conservatives.  Their goals are different: “equity” and employment, not excellence.

    And they will get to your program.

    “For New Orleans, details in the complaint focus on the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.”

    • #13
  14. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    James Gawron:Tuck,

    I live in Florida and did when Jeb was Governor. I’d say he was very responsible. If you don’t like Jeb Bush as a human being than you’ve got no heart. On the other hand, if you think Jeb is a Conservative or you think Jeb is a great candidate for 2016 then you’ve got no brain.

    Regards,

    Jim

    I think I agree with that.  I think all three Bushes are very decent people, and responsible gov’t is nothing to sneeze at.  It’s a necessary precondition for preserving our freedoms, in fact.  But it’s not sufficient.

    • #14
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tuck: Most the elements Peter and Rob discussed about Bush’s record fit this category, and I agree that Bush was a responsible governor.

    Pet peeve alert:

    “Responsible’ is not a standalone word.  It’s not of any use unless you inform us, “Responsible to whom?”

    As for Bush’s alleged conservatism, I haven’t heard that he has done anything to cut corporate welfare in his state.

    • #15
  16. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Tuck:

    Western Chauvinist:

    Tuck: Charter schools are something of a compromise: they’re a responsible thing to do, but given that they’re ultimately state-directed, they don’t really advance conservative principles.

    Having a high school senior and an 8th grader who have come up through Colorado’s state chartered schools, it’s my experience that the only hope for an excellent publicly funded education is the charter system….

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that charter schools are superior to the standard alternative, the command-and-control public schools. That doesn’t mean they advance Conservative principles, however. They’re still state-run and state-funded. The natural course of the evolution of bureaucracy will bring them back to the same place that public schools are now, all of which started as much more independent institutions than they are now.

    …Liberals could try to shut it down, but they’d embarrass themselves….

    Liberals don’t care about embarrassing themselves in the eyes of Conservatives. Their goals are different: “equity” and employment, not excellence.

    And they will get to your program.

    “For New Orleans, details in the complaint focus on the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.”

    I think local (independent) control is a conservative value. State charters provide that — in Colorado anyway.

    • #16
  17. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    TKC1101: The Bushes are people who use the tools they have to achieve ends they think are good.

    This is how I perceive them as well. They are agnostic to ideas like limited, local government. They don’t object to rampant bureaucracy, endless and fungible laws, or political favoritism. They simply want whatever government powers currently exist to be directed toward better ends.

    The ultimate results are that those powers are available to the next Democrat in office and government becomes ever more intrusive.

    Jeb Bush does not strike me as being very different from George W Bush, who thought the answer to bureaucratic miscommunication (CIA, FBI, NSA) was more bureaucracy (HSA). They love government, rather than fear it as the founders did.

    • #17
  18. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    The Reticulator: “Responsible’ is not a standalone word. It’s not of any use unless you inform us, “Responsible to whom?”

    Neither is conservative…  Responsible causes a bit less confusion, however, as, when you’re running a government you’re responsible to the voters.

    • #18
  19. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Western Chauvinist:

    …I think local (independent) control is a conservative value. State charters provide that — in Colorado anyway.

    Not really…

    “…Even homeschoolers will also be affected by the standards indirectly since both the SAT and ACT are soon aligning to Common Core. Every homeschooled student with college aspirations will have to learn the national standards or be at a disadvantage in taking college entrance exams….”

    There’s No Opting Out of Common Core

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tuck:

    The Reticulator: “Responsible’ is not a standalone word. It’s not of any use unless you inform us, “Responsible to whom?”

    Neither is conservative… Responsible causes a bit less confusion, however, as, when you’re running a government you’re responsible to the voters.

    In that case all Presidents have been responsible.

    • #20
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    The Reticulator:

    Tuck:

    The Reticulator: “Responsible’ is not a standalone word. It’s not of any use unless you inform us, “Responsible to whom?”

    Neither is conservative… Responsible causes a bit less confusion, however, as, when you’re running a government you’re responsible to the voters.

    In that case all Presidents have been responsible.

    “Being responsible” and “acting responsibly” are obviously two different things.

    Perhaps you should go familiarize yourself with this word, as debating the meaning is not productive.

    • #21
  22. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tuck:

    The Reticulator:

    Tuck:

    The Reticulator: “Responsible’ is not a standalone word. It’s not of any use unless you inform us, “Responsible to whom?”

    Neither is conservative… Responsible causes a bit less confusion, however, as, when you’re running a government you’re responsible to the voters.

    In that case all Presidents have been responsible.

    “Being responsible” and “acting responsibly” are obviously two different things.

    Not at all obvious. And often dangerous.

    Perhaps you should go familiarize yourself with this word, as debating the meaning is not productive.

    Then why are you debating it with me?

    • #22
  23. David Sussman Contributor
    David Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    Aaron Miller:

    TKC1101: The Bushes are people who use the tools they have to achieve ends they think are good.

    This is how I perceive them as well. They are agnostic to ideas like limited, local government. They don’t object to rampant bureaucracy, endless and fungible laws, or political favoritism. They simply want whatever government powers currently exist to be directed toward better ends.

    The ultimate results are that those powers are available to the next Democrat in office and government becomes ever more intrusive.

    Jeb Bush does not strike me as being very different from George W Bush, who thought the answer to bureaucratic miscommunication (CIA, FBI, NSA) was more bureaucracy (HSA). They love government, rather than fear it as the founders did.

    Great point. GWB ran as an isolationist against ‘nation building’ and a free market advocate. 9-11 and 2008 changed everything. He used government power as a means to achieve security (Patriot Act), as well as to prevent a depression (TARP), both of which he would have argued against in 2000.

    • #23
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