Thursday, February 15, 2007

THE MAN WHO WON'T BE KING

The world knows about George, but journalist S.V. Dáte wants you to know the darker Bush sibling

Posted on Thu, Feb 15, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Jeb: America's Next Bush
Publishing House: Tarcher/Penguin
WorkNameSort: Jeb: America's Next Bush

It could have gone the other way. In fact, some would argue that it should have. Back in 1994's tense bipartisan political climate, the gubernatorial races of Texas and Florida were bound together under one contentious surname. George W. Bush was riding out a long shot against incumbent Ann Richards in the Longhorn State, while younger brother Jeb Bush was considered a shoo-in against the Cracker-isms of folksy 'Walkin'â?� Lawton Chiles in Florida. Few could know that the twist of fate that would turn the tables on the election returns ' Jeb losing Florida, George pulling off Texas ' would go on to decide the future of the free world. Few, that is, besides the Bush family.

'Jeb Bush is going to hate this book,� prefaces author S.V. Dáte at the outset of Jeb: America's Next Bush. He should know. Dáte served as the Palm Beach Post's Tallahassee bureau chief through Bush's two terms as Florida's governor, edging up close enough to the leader and his political machine, which sunblocked the Sunshine Laws, to make Bush's shortlist of undesirables in the media.

'That year and also in coming years, Jeb's press office also let it be known to other reporters at the Post that it wasn't the newspaper per se they had a problem with, but me personally,â?� he writes of 2003. 'And if only Post management could do something about their staffing in Tallahassee â?¦.â?�

Those expecting a personal vendetta violently pounded out from atop a mountain of scorn may be disappointed in Dáte's work. There are no revelations about the illicit habits of his daughter, Noelle; no jabs at the strained relationship with his wife, Columba; and very few potshots aimed below the sagging belt. The book falls comfortably somewhere between polemical philosophizing and revealing biography, focusing largely on policies ' there are several visits to the school voucher issue ' and breeding.

'In Jeb Bush's educational system,� Dáte writes, 'you could get a publicly funded, private school voucher to send your child to a Baptist school that would teach her that Jews, Hindus, and other infidels were going to hell ' even though the state constitution said that no public money was supposed to go to religious institutions.�

Dáte remains surprisingly empathetic throughout ' although that may be a device ' painting a portrait of a man who, faced with a world that isn't up to his prep-school standards, seethes with frustration. Still, Jeb gets things done. When he and his younger brother defeated Chris Evert and Steffi Graf in a tennis match, Jeb gloated. But when things don't go his way, or some hapless hack asks an off-topic question at a press conference, Jeb is a bully at the pulpit, known for his prowess at intimidation.

Dáte may write, 'It would be cheap and easy to call Jeb as stubborn as a mule, except that to do so would impugn any number of more reasonable, open-minded pack animals.� The writer quickly follows the derision with an extensive discussion of just how good and bad that stubbornness has been, especially when comparing Jeb's exhaustive handling of Florida's 2004 hurricanes with his brother's feeble FEMA dealings in the following year's New Orleans disaster. Jeb, he says, is not afraid to get muddy. George, on the other hand, has never been very quick.

For any biographer, Jeb Bush cuts a fertile figure, considering that his father and brother succeeded at becoming U.S. presidents. The territory is ripe for easy contextualizing; his lineage has been dead-set on producing political leaders, not interested in acknowledging human error. There's a sense, though, that judging the Bush family against standard notions of human logic may actually be an indictment of politics altogether. Popularity, after all, breeds contempt. But the dynastic mentality that pervades the Bush pantheon is what makes it so uniquely engaging: the cross-generational ability to pull so much wool over so many eyes to seal their elitist, conservative agenda into the country's highest offices.

'Between the last Bush generation and this one, the family has not been shy about telling the rest of us how to live,� Dáte writes. 'Yet they themselves frequently have failed to live by those rules. Amazingly, this hypocrisy has not seemed to hurt them, with the public indeed listening to what they say, rather than watching what they do.�

For Dáte, the blame doesn't fall solely on the political mendacity of the Bushes, but on the nation as a whole for not even paying attention. Which, to some degree, is the palpable purpose of publishing this book, this very book that Jeb Bush is going to hate. If we're not careful, it could happen again. And next time it will almost certainly be Jeb.

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