Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is supposed to be a sensible Republican. The media, needing a foil for the foaming fundamentalists like Ted Cruz, holds Bush up as an exemplary Republican, willing to break with the GOP’s soulless orthodoxy. That is an image that Bush would undoubtedly like to cultivate as he mulls over a presidential bid in 2016.
However, a recent speech delivered by Bush (whose bid for the presidency would take the undemocratic notion of a political dynasty to new lows) demonstrated that he, just as much as Ted Cruz, is a dangerous threat to the kind of society we should aspire to create in the United States. In fact, he’s more dangerous, because he describes the cruel economic and social outlook of the Republican Party with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, eschewing the hysteria of the Tea Party Caucus.
According to CNN, Bush “decried Washington’s current fiscal path as bogged down with unnecessary bureaucratic regulations laden with policies that benefit the rich while disenfranchising the working-class”. The problem, we are clearly supposed to believe, is that the inequality of our society is the product of the EPA ensuring that our water, food, and air are safe; or else it stems from the implementation of education standards; or from efforts to enact a minimum wage. These and other troublesome regulations are standing in the way of the generosity that the plutocracy—always so kind to the Bus family—would unleash on the American worker if only Big Bad Government would get out of the way. In Bush’s Brain, it has nothing to do with a party who in spite of its loss in multiple elections and the Supreme Court, is sabotaging our “fiscal path”.
Where Bush is right is that a substantial amount of legislation developed over the past 35 years has been designed to benefit corporate America. Where Bush is a bald-faced hypocrite is in disclaiming responsibility for the catastrophic inequality which resulted from this legislative effort, when in fact his party bears nearly full responsibility, whether because it enacted that legislation directly or because it sabotaged the functioning of our government to force Democrats to follow the right-wing lead.
After all, it was not the Democratic Party and its allies which pushed the Citizens United case—corporations are people and money is free speech—to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t the Democratic Party which, after a devastating recession brought on by deliberately deregulated greed and corporate power, continues to advocate for an approach to government which lets plutocrats set the pace at the expense of the country’s working people.
In another example of his delusion, Bush referred to Obamacare as “coercive”, ignoring the obvious aggression inherent in the market forces which allow insurance industries to gouge citizens while determining whether they are worthy of receiving care. The federal government does have requirements and provisions, but there is a key different between those and the “coercion” of the “market” players like the insurance industry: those of the government are arrived at via a democratic process, and created by elected representatives who should, in theory, have the interests of their constituents at heart, whereas the “coercion” of the market is literally that, and is created by people with an social and ethical interest that does not extend beyond their own bottom line.
With a straight face, Bush claimed that “we should let market forces, not crony capitalism, decide where to invest and how to incentivize it’s [sic] citizens to conserve”.
His ability to make a statement of this kind puts him in the same camp with all the other economic fundamentalists in the Republican Party. In the theoretical world inhabited by neoclassical economists (where every statement assumes a “perfect world” very unlike our own), the market might be separable from crony capitalism. But in ours, they are linked inextricably. The problem of the last few decades is that, by and large, the people who control the market and who are primarily interested in the profits of the 1%, have been driving our economy. Think of the housing bubble, of the financial crisis, of the student loan crisis, and of the record levels of debt in our country, all encouraged by the interests Bush would have us believe are suffering under a regime of regulation.
Far from encouraging citizens to “conserve”, these deregulated interests have promoted a culture of debt and licentiousness. They have told us that we can have it all without making any sacrifices. They have pillaged our planet, ransacked our national economy, degraded our democracy, and claimed all the while that economic inequality, environmental destruction, and the unshackling of corporate power were market-driven necessities. They began the process of introducing the cruelty of the power-driven “free market” (the biggest fairytale in history) not only into our economic lives, but into our political system, claiming that those with more money deserved a bigger “say” in our national conversation—hence Citizens United. Now, in a total about-face, lying through their teeth, Bush and his party are claiming that all of the ills for which they were responsible were someone else’s fault.
Led by a range of people—Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, etc—the architects of “crony capitalism” (as though there could be any other kind) are now trying to save capitalism by re-branding it and re-writing history. They are not “moderates”. They are the representatives of a social class and its economic system which are responsible for the inequality and cruelty of our society; for the weakness of the working class; for the destruction of our material environment; for our debt; and for the decline of our democracy.