Jeb! Just too darn nice for his own good

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

Try as he might, Jeb! just doesn’t get it. To the usual drum roll (and both drum and sticks are look­ing a lit­tle worse for wear), the Bush cam­paign rolled out the new, new Jeb! this week. The new Jeb!, un­like the pre­vi­ous new Jeb!s, would from now on be tough, bold, brave and fear­less. The fam­ily’s in­stinc­tive good man­ners be darned. Jeb! would break­fast on barbed wire with a side of 10-penny nails. Call in the women and chil­dren, lock the doors, put up the storm shut­ters and ev­ery­body get out of his way. The earth is about to shake, rat­tle and roll.

The makeover didn’t last long. He re­nounced his one good line in the last Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate, when he re­marked that Marco Ru­bio’s fre­quent breaks from Sen­ate du­ties re­minded him of the three-day French work week.

That would nee­dle Marco at the ex­pense of the cheese-eat­ing sur­ren­der mon­keys. A dou­ble shot at a fa­mil­iar tar­get. The chuck­les had hardly sub­sided be­fore it oc­curred to Jeb! that maybe he had hurt some­one’s feel­ings in a bar on the Mar­seille water­front.

He didn’t wait to see whether the French would say any­thing about this breach of Bush man­ners. The French, be­ing the so­phis­ti­cated French with an un­der­stand­ing of the long love-hate re­la­tion­ship with the colonies, let it go. Jeb! struck out on the apol­ogy trail, any­way.

He told re­porters in New Hamp­shire that it was “wrong to crit­i­cize the French.” What? Has he for­got­ten that needling the French, and tak­ing needling in re­turn, was the na­tional pas­time be­fore Ab­ner Dou­ble­day, who in­vented base­ball, got to sec­ond base. “I re­ally did a dis­ser­vice to the French,” he said. Dis­ser­vice? Didn’t he spell their names right? Did he mis­pro­nounce some­thing? The French don’t care what you do, ex­actly, as long as you say it in French and make no mis­take with the pro­nun­ci­a­tion. He’s not John Kerry, af­ter all.

Then he went into more de­tail than he needed to cor­rect an of­fense that no­body took. “I made the mis­take of say­ing that Congress operates on a French work week. I now know that the av­er­age French work week is ac­tu­ally greater than the Ger­man work week. So, my God! I to­tally in­sulted an en­tire coun­try, our first ally, that helped us to be­come free as a na­tion! And I apol­o­gize. That did a huge dis­ser­vice to France. It didn’t re­ally get to the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem, the three-day work week.” (The ex­cla­ma­tion he wanted, by the way, was “Mon Dieu!”)

Poor Jeb! He used up an en­tire year’s sup­ply of ex­cla­ma­tion points, which are never proper, any­way, it’s like laugh­ing at your own joke. Mein Gott! Now he owes the Ger­mans an apol­ogy, too.

If only in his own mind, Jeb! has man­gled man­ners more than he imag­ines. As the scion of one of the last dis­tin­guished WASP fam­i­lies left in Amer­ica, he is sus­pect in France, no mat­ter what he says. Of French pres­i­dents from Charles de Gaulle down to the present day, noth­ing gets in the Gal­lic craw like some­thing harsh from what the French call “the An­glo-Sax­ons.” The very term is said with a snark and meant as in­sult. Amer­ica’s armies, use­ful as they may some­times be for the French, are dis­missed by rote when their use­ful­ness is fin­ished, as “the An­glo-Sax­ons.” This is of course news to Tyrone, Mag­gio, Mario and oth­ers in the bar­racks who never knew they were tall, blond and blue-eyed.

The Bush boys learned at their daddy’s knee that bash­ing is rude and hurt­ful, but bash­ing the French is as Amer­i­can as hot dogs, tacos, turnip greens and ap­ple pie. Jeb! should have basked in what­ever af­ter­glow he found in the wake of his put­down of the French work week. He need not have come up with a sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis of the Euro­pean work­ing class, cor­rect­ing the num­bers and apol­o­giz­ing to the frogs. The French knew it was all in a day’s work.

Jeb Bush, with or with­out that un­nec­es­sary ex­cla­ma­tion point, is a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date out of time. He might make a very good pres­i­dent, but not this year. He should re­treat to 1950. The Bush de­cency, man­ners and con­sid­er­a­tion for the feel­ings of oth­ers are ex­iles from an­other age.

Not so long ago, WASP Epis­co­palians held the fran­chise on pres­i­dents. This year we’ve got blacks, rowdy whites, a woman, Bap­tists, Methodists, His­pan­ics and even a Sev­enth-Day Ad­ven­tist in the re­mark­able buf­fet put be­fore us. It’s no fault of Jeb! that he’s just too darn nice for his own good, but this is not the year for nice. Wes­ley Pruden is editor in chief emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Jeb Bush

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