The Jeb Bush boomlet that fascinated gullible pundits — and tantalized Republicans — during the dark days of last winter’s presidential primary is undergoing a swift revival. Less than three weeks after the defeat of Mitt Romney, a candidate who proved repellent to minority voters, Republicans are said to be yearning for Jeb, who speaks fluent Spanish and whose wife is from Mexico.
Perhaps after another four years’ distance, the former Florida governor will somehow overcome the bad memories (and the human, economic, and diplomatic destruction) left by his older brother George W. and restore the damaged family political brand. But according to The New York Times, which reported that Jeb is considering a presidential run, he is also considering whether he can afford the luxury of returning to politics: He “is said by friends to be weighing financial and family considerations — between so many years in office and the recession his wealth took a dip, they said, and he has been working hard to restore it…”
Aside from his need to “restore” his depleted wealth, Jeb’s business dealings may well prove an insurmountable obstacle to a national candidacy, just as Romney’s business career became excess baggage for his presidential campaign. Known today only as another Bush brother, Jeb must be introduced to American voters. And among the first things they are likely to learn about him is the string of borderline business deals that built his original fortune in Florida real estate, which began three decades ago.
While some aspects of the Jeb story may sound uplifting, there are certainly other episodes that will make voters’ hair stand on end.
Consider his gamy relationship with Miguel Recarey, whose International Medical Centers stands accused of one of the largest Medicare swindles of all time. Before Recarey fled the country ahead of several federal indictments, Jeb had placed a call on his behalf to Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler — a Cabinet secretary serving at the pleasure of Jeb’s daddy, President George Herbert Walker Bush. Recarey paid Jeb a sweet $75,000 for that lobbying effort, which forestalled government action to stop Recarey’s skimming of millions in Medicare dollars. Although Jeb has denied that Recarey — a Mafia associate — hired him to importune Heckler, both the fugitive and the former HHS secretary have since confirmed those circumstances.
After Recarey fled Miami, Jeb gradually grew rich through real estate investments, thanks to his connections with the Cuban-American community in South Florida. To show his gratitude, Jeb sought a presidential pardon from his dad for Orlando Bosch, a murderous anti-Castro militant denounced by his father’s own attorney general Richard Thornburgh as “an unreformed terrorist” responsible for the murder of dozens of innocent people. That kind of thing is acceptable among the South Florida Cubans, but may not look so good in the post-9/11 era to the rest of the country.
Then there is Jeb’s career as governor, a saga that includes his vow to sign legislation that would have awarded Florida’s disputed electoral votes to his brother in November 2000, and his attempted intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman whose husband and parents fought over whether to turn off her respirator. Interference in that sad matter by congressional leaders and other right-wing busybodies was gross exploitation of a family tragedy — and the Schiavo affair became a turning point in the 2006 Republican midterm debacle.
So yes — run, Jeb, run! The fact is that almost any presidential candidate from Florida represents a full-employment program for investigative journalism — and the “smarter” Bush brother is no exception.
Copyright 2012 The National Memo