It’s no secret that Jeb Bush has his sights set on the Presidency – and that getting to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave will require him to distance himself from former President George W. Bush’s mistakes.
That’s probably why the former Florida governor has generally refused to “talk about the past” or discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I love my brother, I love my dad, I actually love my mother as well,” he said last week at a major foreign policy address seeking to lay out his own vision for the world, “But I’m my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences.”
Later, in a question-and-answer session, he did acknowledge that “mistakes were made” in Iraq.
This approach seems reasonable at first glance. In terms of both popularity and fiscal conservative accomplishments, Jeb was unquestionably a more successful governor than his brother was President. It’s not fair, after all, to hold Jeb accountable for mistakes his family members may have made.
But look a little closer, and real distinctions between Bush-era policies and Jeb’s vision become a bit difficult to find.
In last Wednesday’s speech before the Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs, Bush struck a hawkish tone, saying, “we definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies,” falling upon the familiar refrain of invoking the Carter era and bemoaning a vaguely terrifying Iranian influence. He spoke of what he sees as our need to protect Europe from Russian influence as well.
While it’s unclear what ideology would ultimately characterize a Jeb Bush presidency, his foreign policy tone along with full-throated defense of NSA domestic surveillance and early hires seen as “staunch defenders” of the CIA suggest that the Jeb doctrine is at least somewhat similar to that of President George W. Bush.
However, most of Jeb Bush’s vision is still quite vague at this point, and national opinions do include staunch noninterventionism and civil libertarianism as well as… whatever Jeb is. Reasonable people can disagree upon and debate Jeb’s ultimate policy framework. It seems that he has, at least, learned from the mistakes of his brother.
Or has he? The most concrete policy goal he mentioned on Wednesday is reason to suspect that he hasn’t learned much at all.
Specifically, he wants big spending – and a lot more of it.
While I personally do not align with a hawkish foreign policy, many whose opinions I respect do. The coalition I lead includes those of many foreign policy perspectives, and the case can be reasonably made for active overseas involvement.
However, in doing so, advocates of this position must also accept the onus of responsibility to fund these engagements responsibly, not in a way that puts the nation further at risk.
Jeb Bush on Wednesday offered no plan for doing so, calling for significant increases in Pentagon spending, breaking the bipartisan budget caps of just a few years ago.
This approach is gravely wrong for several reasons.
First, it relies upon the questionable notion that more taxpayer spending directly correlates with a better defense and a safer country. It also relies upon the patently false idea that there’s “nothing to cut” in the massive Pentagon budget.
And most importantly for Jeb’s future, this approach follows in lock step with his brother’s biggest failing: fiscal irresponsibility.
President George W. Bush oversaw the addition of more debt than any other president before him, tacking on over $5.8 trillion and more than doubling the national debt. While the War on Terror drove Pentagon spending to its highest-ever levels, as high as $800 billion per year, President Bush also pushed through a $700 billion bank bailout.
He also spearheaded what some have called “the largest expansion of the welfare state since the creation of Medicare in 1965” with Medicare Part D, which had added $318 billion to the national debt by 2012.
President George W. Bush was no fiscal conservative. His profligate spending and debt, along with that of his successor, exploded the scope of the federal government and will take a toll on the economy and major programs for years to come.
While opinions vary wildly on various aspects of foreign and domestic policy, almost no one can support such gross negligence with the nation’s balance sheet.
If Jeb truly wants to be different from his brother, he should seek fiscal responsibility and honest budgeting above all. Regardless of ideology, that’s a standard worth demanding.