Reading the Washington Post write-up of Gov. Jeb Bush's speech to the National Review Conservative Summit, you have to wonder just what he's saying. The Post reports:
Jeb Bush delivered yesterday in Washington a resounding endorsement of conservative principles, bringing his audience repeatedly to its feet.
In his lunchtime remarks to the Conservative Summit, Bush struck every conservative chord, blaming Republicans' defeat in November on the party's abandonment of tenets including limited government and fiscal restraint....
He added, "If the promise of pork and more programs is the way Republicans think they'll regain the majority, then they've got a problem."
Jeb said he was talking about the Republican Congress, and Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review noted that he offered
a vigorous defense of his brother. Bush, at the beginning of his lunch speech, directed comments to the press gathered, noting emphatically: "I'm not going to criticize the president of the United States." Among other accomplishments, Bush noted, “I like Justice Roberts. I like Justice Alito…" and tax cuts. He would also go on to defend the president’s immigration policy.
But who's he kidding? President Bush sponsored most of those "more programs," and in six years he hasn't vetoed a single piece of pork or a bloated entitlement bill or a new spending program. And if Jeb thinks "we lost...because we rejected the conservative philosophy in this country," he must realize that his brother has set the agenda for Republicans over the past six years almost as firmly as Putin has set Russia's agenda. If Republicans turned their back on limited-government conservatism, it's because the White House told them to. Not that congressional leaders were blameless — and on Social Security reform, they did decide to resist Bush's one good idea — but it was President Bush and his White House staff who inspired, enticed, threatened, bullied, and bully-pulpited Republicans into passing the No Child Left Behind Act, the biggest expansion of entitlements in 40 years, and other big-government schemes.
This isn't a dynastic country, and we shouldn't elect a president whose brother (or husband) just served in the same office. But maybe Jeb could do like royals and nobles in the Old World sometimes do — give up their title or family name and enter politics as just plain Tony. (Believe me, once voters hear Jeb discuss public policy with facts and complete sentences, they'll quickly forget that he's supposed to be the president's brother.) As John Ellis, the successful two-term governor of Florida, Jeb would instantly be the mainstream-conservative candidate for president.
But actual supporters of limited government should limit their enthusiasm. Although Jeb seems to have convinced conservatives that he's much more committed to spending restraint than W — and he did veto some $2 billion in spending over eight years — his real record is much more like his brother's. According to the Cato Institute's Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors (pdf), he presided over "explosive growth in state spending." Indeed, in the latest report card, only 10 governors had worse ratings on spending restraint, though — again like his brother — Jeb scored much higher on tax cutting. Federal spending is up 50 percent in six years; Florida's spending was up 52 percent in eight years, and Jeb wasn't fighting two foreign wars.
But at least he gives a good speech.