We're Making Jeb Bush Answer For George, But Hillary Clinton Doesn't Have To For Bill. Why?
Jeb Bush has been forced to spend the week talking about his least favorite subject — being a Bush. Throughout his entire presidential campaign, Jeb Bush has had to answer for his brother George, and now he's been asked to elaborate on some of his father's more controversial statements. His campaign is completely overshadowed by the legacy of two former presidents, and the media won't let him forget it. But the thing is, he's not the only candidate who has ties to the past — yet he's the only one being asked to apologize for it.
As every political journalist has learned by now, George H. W. Bush is releasing a new book, in which he insinuates that George W. Bush was misled by Dick Cheney, his vice president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. All of the men involved — including George Bush, who's presidency was in question — provided brief statements about the situation.
But, despite not being named or involved, Jeb Bush has faced questions about his father's statement on all sides. "My brother's a big boy," he told reporters. "I think my dad, like a lotta people that love George wanna try to create — a different narrative perhaps ... just 'cause that's natural to do, right? But George would say ... 'This is under my watch, I was commander in chief. I was the leader. And I accept personal responsibility for what happened, both the good and the bad.' And I think that's the right way to look at it."
Bush, who clearly has a lot of love and respect for his family, is looking at a double-edged sword. How does he prove that he is not his brother (or father), without completely trashing their administrations? And should he sit back when his opponents rip into his family?
In May, Bush told reporters that he would not have gone into Iraq had he known what we know now. But during the third GOP debate, when Bush was once again reminded about his last name, he delivered his strongest statement thus far in defense his brother's administration. "As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe," Bush told the crowds.
It's a tough spot — who wants to be held responsible for someone else's actions? Definitely not Bush, who was handling his own problems in Florida during his brother's presidency. Which is why it's confusing that he's constantly asked to explain and defend decisions that he very likely had no knowledge or connection to.
On the other side of this coin is Hillary Clinton, who actually was in the White House during her husband's two terms. Except Clinton isn't constantly being asked to defend or explain her husband's actions. Not once in a 2016 primary debate has another candidate asked Clinton why her husband was embroiled in an affair or subsequent impeachment scandal. No moderator has questioned her husband's support of "don't ask, don't tell" for those serving in the military. And the number of reporters questioning Bill Clinton's 1996 decision to sign the Defense Of Marriage Act into law died down pretty quickly.
Clinton isn't afraid to use her husband as a strategist, adviser, and surrogate for her on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush's campaign has stalled on whether to use the president in his back pocket. Even though George Bush could be crucial to gaining votes in some states, they know that on a national level, the association could be a liability. So how is one president an asset, and the other one a curse?
Maybe it's because Clinton had a cooling off period of almost two decades for individuals to forget about her husband's policies. Not to mention that some of her most dedicated supporters were barely toddlers when he was inaugurated. It also helps that since then, Clinton has had plenty of other scandals and issues to hang over her campaign. Yet, thus far Bush's largest mistake appears to be having the last name of Bush.
But the more likely cause of the discrepancy is the legacy of the two administrations. Those same Clinton supporters were just coming of age when the Twin Towers were attacked, and started their adult lives in a post-9/11 world. And although DOMA caused emotional suffering and set the marriage equality movement back, it doesn't have a body count on par with the Iraq war. We are still feeling the effects of the war, even seven years after Bush has left office. We have questions that never received answers. As a nation, we still need closure. It makes sense that we seek out someone to blame.
However, it can't be stressed enough that these were not Jeb Bush's decisions. He was not voting in the Senate, he was not handling security reports, and he was not advising his brother. Years later, it would never occur to us to lay the blame for Bill Clinton's impeachment trials at the feet of his wife — so why do we feel compelled to make Jeb a scapegoat for his brother?
It's time to let the shadows of these two administrations go, and let the past stay in the past. It's 2016, not 2000. So let's start acting like it.