Dick Polman, 12/3/2014 [Archive]

Jeb Bush's Shakespearean Rumination

By Dick Polman

Now playing on the national stage - Jeb Bush as Hamlet: To be, or not to be - that is the question...

Jeb can't seem to decide whether he wants to expose himself to those slings and arrows. And you can't blame him for hesitating. Why would a sane Republican, whose views are anathema to the base, want to sign up for a season of suffering?

He ruminated anew on Monday night, while speaking to a Wall Street Journal-sponsored dinner of CEOs. He said that he's still wrestling with idea of running for president, but he's wary of getting "sucked into the vortex" - meaning, the ugly ideological freak show that American politics has become. This was not his first soliloquy on the topic. At a forum last April, he said he was averse to participating in what he called "the vortex of a mud fight."

Monday, he told the CEOs: "It's a pretty ugly business right now. I'm not saying, 'Oh woe is me,' don't get me wrong." However, "there's a level under which I would never subjugate my family. Because that's my organizing principle, that's my life."

Ah, yes - just as Hamlet mused about how nice it would be to choose inaction, to sleep in peace and thus end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to / 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Jeb is torn. The peaceful life beckons, devoutly so, but the Republican establishment (including most of those CEOs) are beckoning him to run. The Bush clan, which apparently views the Oval Office as a family heirloom, is reportedly on board for a run. But here's the problem: If Jeb really thinks he can run without being drawn into "the vortex," he's in dire need of a 21st-century attitude adjustment.

As evidenced by his remarks the other night, he thinks it's possible to win the GOP nomination and the White House by dissing the conservatives who vote heavily in the primaries: "I kinda know how a Republican can win, whether it's me or someone else - and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be 'Lose the primary to win the general.'" He soon added, "It's not an easy task, to be honest with you."

True that. How do you even get to the general election if you've lost the primaries?

One of Jeb's big issues is Common Core, the educational standards created by the National Governors Association (he touted the program again on Monday night) - but conservatives hate Common Core. His other big issue is immigration reform (he touted that as well) - but conservatives hate that, too. They haven't forgotten what he said last spring, that when immigrants illegally cross the border to work here and provide for their families, "it's an act of love."

As the American Conservative magazine wrote, "If Jeb Bush thinks there are a lot of Republican voters hungering for bland 'centrism' with a dynastic name attached to it, he is in for an unpleasant surprise."

No wonder Jeb is conflicted - much like Hamlet, who pondered whether it was worth the effort to grunt and sweat under a weary life.

So what the heck, Jeb might as well be free to be himself. That probably explains his various "Bulworth" moments on Monday night. He said that a Republican presidential campaign should stress the need "to be practical now in Washington." and that the new Republican Congress should stress an "adult-centered kind of leadership" and not simply try to "make a point." Heck, he even refused to join the right-wing outcry against President Obama's anti-deportation executive order (because he's "not a lawyer").

How can you win a GOP nomination in this day and age, saying stuff like that? You might as well try to hike the Himalayas in your bare feet.

Jeb is starting to conjure memories of Mario Cuomo, the Democratic governor who was famously dubbed "Hamlet on the Hudson" because he tarried so long at the starting gate - to the point where he finally whiffed at the New Hampshire primary filing deadline, in December 1991, while a plane literally waited on the tarmac to whisk him to the Granite State.

It would not be a shock if Jeb ultimately skips his own ride. Meanwhile, he continues to ponder. Tell us, Hamlet!

The native hue of resolution is sickled o'er with the pale cast of thought.


Copyright 2014 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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