Flattering Jeb to Denigrate George, NYT's Barbaro Jabs at GWB's 'Gentleman C's' and 'Costly Wars'

New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro issued a gushing profile Sunday of Jeb Bush, former Republican governor of Florida, possible presidential contender, and, apparently, the smart Bush: "Jeb Bush Gives Party Something To Think About." By contrast, President George W. Bush, who "left Yale with gentleman’s C’s after four years" (shouldn't that at least be "graduated Yale"?) is a potential millstone around Jeb's neck.

There is much praise of Jeb Bush's voracious book reading and formidable intelligence, but a Barbaro tweet reveals a side agenda – denigrating GWB: "My deep dive into the intellectual life of Jeb Bush, who's definitely not his brother." (Barbaro has previously gone to silly extremes to denigrate Republican politicians.)

Barbaro wrote Sunday:

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush flew in Ivy League social scientists for daylong seminars with his staff and carved out time for immersive brainstorming sessions he called “think weeks.”

A voracious reader, he maintains a queue of 25 volumes on his Kindle (George Gilder’s “Knowledge and Power” among them, he said) and routinely sends fan mail to his favorite authors.

Barbaro is so flattering you'd think he was writing about a Democrat.

As Mr. Bush, 61, weighs whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he is dogged by fears of voter exhaustion with a family name indelibly linked to his older brother, a self-assured Texan who prized instinct over expertise and once acknowledged a lack of interest in slogging through long books.

But 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.

But the bookishness and pragmatism that strike mainstream Republican leaders as virtues highlight the potential difficulty that Mr. Bush may face in igniting the passions of more conservative members of the party.

The questions he grapples with most frequently, and enthusiastically, revolve around improving the effectiveness of government in areas like education, immigration and criminal justice.It is a message unlikely to electrify Tea Party and libertarian wings of his party that are openly hostile to the very idea of government.

Another reason the Times might be pushing this particular Bush: His harsh criticism of his own party.

After Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat in 2012, in a presidential campaign that struggled to leaven its harsh tone with an optimistic vision for governing, Mr. Bush was unsparing, warning that the Republican brand risked becoming a millstone, "associated with being anti-everything." Much of the electorate, he said, believes that “Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.”

Those who have hashed over policy and politics with Mr. Bush describe him as a conservative animated less by rigid ideology than a technocrat’s quest to identify which solutions work best.

President George W. Bush came in for some more jabs (hard to believe such a dummy earned two Ivy League degrees):

It is a cerebral image that Mr. Bush readily and conspicuously embraces, inviting inevitable -- and not always flattering -- comparisons with his brother. (While George W. Bush, 67, left Yale with gentleman’s C’s after four years, Jeb Bush raced through the University of Texas in two and a half, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.) He insisted, for example, that his official portrait as governor contain a bookcase filled with his most beloved titles, among them “Cross Creek,” a memoir by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

The anti-GWB hits kept coming:

Aubrey Jewett, who has studied Jeb Bush as a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida, said he “seems to go out of his way to make it clear that he’s different from his brother, by the way he talks about himself, his goals and the details of public policy.”

And how he governed. Under Mr. Bush, who served from 1999 to 2007, the Florida governor’s office at times resembled a mini-university. New employees showed up to find a copy of a treasured Bush book on their desks: “A Message to Garcia,” the inspirational 1899 essay about a United States soldier who journeyed to Cuba to win the alliance of a rebel leader.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.