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Monday, May 18, 2015

Jeb to his high-profile gay staffers: shut up and keep cashing your big paychecks.

CBN's David Brody gave Jeb Bush the puffball treatment in an interview released today, and Bush responded by chewing the scenery in a manful way. So much so, in fact, that Brody fears primary voters' animal spirits will blind them to what a dreamboat Jeb is:
It’s interesting because the reality is that Jeb Bush’s record as Florida Governor reads like a social conservative’s dream scorecard. He championed pro-life causes like a late term abortion ban, parental notification laws and fought against those who wanted to pull the plug on brain-damaged heroine Terri Schiavo. He also championed school choice and tried to protect prayers at public school events. It’s that Jeb Bush that social conservative voters want to see emerge in 2016. They want to see the Jeb Bush that was on display as governor of Florida. What they don’t want is another politician (Bush or anyone) who is more consultant-driven than principle-driven. 
In the interview, Bush did an Iraq War-style pivot on his previous comments about a vague sort of tolerance of gays and lined up with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum, and, well pretty much all the others: we should get to do and think and discriminate all we want, when we want, and what's left, well that's the "space" the gays get to occupy in American life. Until, of course, we decide to narrow it some more. Making "space" is a favorite Republican dog whistle, as Waldo noted recently. When it comes to abortion clinics, for example, they find they need ever-increasing amounts of space and time around such entities.

So now Bush is doubling down, exhorting himself to be a "stalwart supporter of traditional marriage" and offering some sort of incoherent notion that marriage equality is bad for "children born in poverty": worse, even, than the bait-and-switch legislation Wisconsin is running on food assistance (you can't have ketchup; you can't have shellfish; you can't have pasta sauce in a jar); cuts in school meal programs, education programs, public transit, job training, and all the other things that might help a family get out of poverty than if a gay couple across town gets married.

I probably give the Bush team too much credit for historical memory, but once George W. picked up and started running with the Dred Scott code talk for abortion, anything is possible. The GOP has had a turn with "stalwarts" before, in the 1870s. Then too, they were reactionary, mostly Southern, opposed to reform except as a meaningless buzzword stuffed with flannel. It is Karl Rove's favorite period in American political history; he considers its apotheosis to be William McKinley, the congressman made president by Ohio industrialist Mark Hanna.

But what baffles me is this: the OED tells me a "heroine" is a demigoddess; heroic woman; chief female character in a poem, play or story. Terri Schiavo was a brain-dead woman who lay in a vegetative state for fifteen years, during which her brain shrank to half its normal size. Never mind, for the moment, the intense personal trials her family and friends went through, not least by being made political footballs by the likes of Jeb Bush and his brother, the President. Just what makes Terri Schiavo a Heroine? And of what?

As for Bush's new, harder position, well, big whoop. Expecting any Republican candidate to take anything but the most "severely conservative" lip service possible is folly. Some have been trying out some vague nostrums of tolerance and fence-straddling since the Battle of Indiana, and they are finding 1/ it doesn't poll well in Iowa and South Carolina; and 2/ with a field of candidates expected to top out somewhere between 12 and 19 (nearly all in the pocket of a billionaire), leaving any daylight at all to the right will mean getting redefined as a communist.

Third, and perhaps most important, is Fox News. It is hard to tell, most days whether Fox is an arm of the party, or the party itself. But its gravitational pull is undeniable. Republican presidential candidates can no longer escape it. As Bruce Bartlett wrote in an important assessment of Fox's history the other day,
[S]ome political observers now question whether Fox is a net plus or a net minus for Republican presidential candidates. As Columbia University political scientist Lincoln Mitchell put it after Romney’s loss: Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season. Even after the primary season, when Fox became a big supporter for Romney, the rift between official editorial position and the political feelings of Fox viewers and hosts was clear.

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