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Jeb Bush, the politics of confronting "mediocrity," and saying what you mean


Back in the day, we had a Florida governor who, though he didn't much like the press, appreciated the role of reporters and the idea of advancing ideas – even if it meant soiling his hands with the ink-stained wretches.

Jeb Bush never seemed to shy away from speaking a mind full of facts and figures, sharpened by study and by challenging himself and others. His talking points were his own, not those cooked by others in some faraway political kitchen and then handed to him a la carte.

Press availabilities with Bush were always news events. And reporters who didn’t bring their A game, who didn’t study up, got dismissed, dissed, ripped up by Bush, whose disdain for the press was matched by his interest in debating it, like a cat toying with rats.

A stark reminder of all this is below in a video clip of a press conference with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal where Bush lets loose with his defense of Common Core education standards, which have become the new fluoride for some on the far right and the new Bush bugaboo for left-leaning union types who never much liked anything from the mind of Jeb (or “Jeb!” as his campaign signs read).

“If you're comfortable with mediocrity, fine. I'm not. And I think most Floridians aren't either…The simple fact is no one can defend the lower standards that we have across the country,” Bush said yesterday.

“I don’t know anyone that voluntarily says, ‘let’s dumb down the standards even more to make everybody feel good.’ If they say that, they don’t say it in public because it’s totally indefensible.”

None of this is to say that Common Core is perfect, mind you. But Bush makes a compelling argument, which has yet to be rationally rebutted (though it could happen).

Comments like this underscore how different Bush is from his successor, Gov. Charlie Crist, and Crist's successor, Gov. Rick Scott.

Crist often answered in platitudes, usually with a smile. Scott doesn’t really answer a question at all and instead repeats what he just said.

The two are likely to run against each other next year. Sometimes, it seems as if Crist-Scott are different sides of the same non-answer coin. A debate between these two might look like the battle of question-ducking Zen masters.

Scott lately hasn’t said much about Common Core, although he’s trying to come up with some type of compromise executive action that’ll set people’s minds at ease about data mining and federal control of local education.

It’s a long time coming for Bush’s loyalists, two of whom sit on the state's board of education and seemed to express a measure of frustration with Scott for not being out front on the issue. Neither outgoing member Kathleen Shanahan nor Sallie Bradshaw explicitly called out the current governor (they wouldn’t do that), but it was clear they yearned for the day when Florida had a leader who had a set of ideas and was willing to speak his mind about them.

Was Jeb Bush sometimes peevish, arrogant, hardheaded, political, partisan or deceptive about some things? Sure. What pol (or many people, for that matter) isn’t or hasn’t been.

Bush won’t run for governor again and probably won’t run for president.

The Republican Party has shifted rightward since he left office in January 2007 to such a degree that he’s being trashed as a phony conservative. His position on Common Core has made him a target, as has his support of comprehensive immigration reform (and, incidentally, he was all over the map on a pathway to citizenship earlier this year, proving that he, too, isn’t always a model of consistency).

Perhaps the biggest bar against him running for the White House is Bush’s inability to suffer fools and play the political pander game. "I tire of the politics of education," he said. It seems he tires of politics at times. Why else would he celebrate Hillary Clinton at a recent award ceremony?

Also, his speech at the American Conservative Union this year was more of a lecture about how Republicans have to stop being “anti everything.” Republicans didn’t like Jeb’s eat-your-vegetables message.

It’s no way to win office, governor.

But it sure is a good way to make news, even if you don’t much like reporters.