Jeb Bush Is a Wonk–Just Ask Him

NYT wants you to believe Bush is a wonk--so here's a photo of him signing a book he wrote!

The NYT wants you to believe Bush is a wonk–so here’s a photo of him signing a book he wrote!

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush–son of one president and brother of another–is considered a leading contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Obviously one drawback of being George W. Bush’s brother is that many voters remember George W. Bush. Thus there’s a need to “rebrand”–and the New York Times is eager to help.

Times reporter Michael Barbaro (5/24/14) explains that Bush is “bookish,” a “voracious reader” and “self-described nerd” who “flew in Ivy League social scientists for daylong seminars with his staff.” He asks think tanks really wonky questions, like, “What are the top five ways to achieve 4 percent economic growth?”

Indeed, Times readers are told that during his tenure, “the Florida governor’s office at times resembled a mini-university.” There’s evidence of this: He created a speakers’ series that included Colin Powell. Wonky stuff!

Barbaro notes that these days, “Bush peppers his speeches with statistics, academic-sounding references to ‘quintiles’ and self-deprecating jokes about his own geekiness.”

To those who know him, he is “a conservative animated less by rigid ideology than a technocrat’s quest to identify which solutions work best.” And who knows him better than his friends?

Friends and former aides have variously described him as a “policy wonk,” an “ideas junkie” and, as Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called him, “a top-drawer intellect.”

The piece is at least aware of the spin campaign at work here. Barbaro writes that this “is a cerebral image that Mr. Bush readily and conspicuously embraces,” and one with an obvious political importance:

In ways big and small, deliberate or subconscious, the younger Mr. Bush seems to have defined himself as the anti-George W. Bush: an intellectual in search of new ideas, a serial consulter of outsiders who relishes animated debate, and a probing manager who eagerly burrows into the bureaucratic details.

Allies said that reputation–as what the Republican strategist Karl Rove called the “deepest thinker on our side”–could prove vital in selling Mr. Bush as a presidential candidate to an electorate still scarred by George W. Bush’s legacy of costly wars abroad and economic meltdown at home.

There is at least an inkling that some people aren’t buying it:

Not everyone was impressed. Democratic-leaning outsiders groused that his administration had been co-opted by conservative think tanks, like the Hoover, Cato and Manhattan institutes, whose proposals Mr. Bush openly borrowed.

“I don’t think he had any ideas of his own,” said Robert E. Crew Jr., an associate dean at Florida State University who chronicled Mr. Bush’s governorship in a 2009 book, Jeb Bush: Aggressive Conservatism in Florida.

That criticism can be discarded–the next sentence begins, “But there is little dispute over Mr. Bush’s firm command of government’s smallest details.”

The Times includes a sidebar consisting of  “a selection of what he has read or is now reading.” On the list? Bill O’Reilly’s latest, Killing Jesus.

It’s what all the nerds and wonks are reading.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.