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Jeb Bush is running for president almost because he has to. The second son inherited the awesome mantle of slaying a Clinton. He must succeed where his father failed.

The former Florida governor’s newly announced bid has more to do with him — and them — than us. We the people are bit players in the Bush family psyche. Jeb’s run is for the good of his tribe.

Yes, the Bush family is a WASP tribe that puts winning first and always. They are not pleasant gentlemen in Bermuda shorts, as the summer home in Maine suggests. They are preppie jocks who talk rough and play rougher. They crave the power of the ultimate clubhouse, the White House.

Journalists like Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post burnish the Bushes for being relentlessly competitive without noting the price we paid for that streak.

The Bushes are like the Kennedys, only without the charm, class, intellect, and social conscience. Whether it’s tennis, horseshoes, or the deadlocked Florida presidential election in 2000, winning is the only thing for the Bushes.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach who spoke that line, never meant it to go so far out of bounds. He was just talking, gentlemen, about football. (As a Wisconsin girl, I appreciate Coach Lombardi up to a sporting point.)

Too bad for his band of brothers, Jeb lacks charisma. Brother George W. Bush, the warmonger, has a naughty sparkle. In “showing his heart,” Jeb is still stuck with a stiff handshake and his brother’s foreign policy advisors. (Bushes prize loyalty above all.) He’s proud of handing out private school vouchers, axing state jobs, and curbing women’s human rights — even the right to die, in an infamous case. This may be why Jeb reminds many women of their first husbands. As for men, some say he conjures the card-playing uncle who beat them at cribbage.

Historical stakes are high. Bushes have a chance to outdo the Adamses, Roosevelts, Kennedys—truly great families—by producing a third president. That would be a first. So the tribe can’t have Jeb doing less than suiting up for battle with gobs of money.

Plus, it’s urgent to avenge his father’s loss to a Clinton, Bill, back in 1992. Remember George H.W. Bush was a sitting president who lost, a brand burned into their collective skin. How sweet for the tribal elder, in his 90s, to see his favorite son beat his worst political foes before he shuffles off this mortal coil. The contest for history is a real race. Jeb has to settle a score for “Poppy,” his father’s preppie nickname.

That family’s fierce zeal has turned out tragically for the country. It’s hard to wrap your mind around how the Bushes turn public service into their private court of honor — where they settle affairs of state personally. Clarence Thomas, nominated to the Supreme Court by the older George Bush in 1991, is the first egregious example of misconduct.

At the Senate hearings, a well-spoken law professor named Anita Hill told of her experience working for Thomas, whom she described as making salacious comments and asking her out. Thomas headed the federal agency that prosecuted sexual harassment claims. In the hullabaloo that followed, Hill was effectively put on trial while Thomas sulked outside. In a cliffhanger vote, 52-48, the Bush White House stood by their man. It was a crushing realization that they didn’t care if what Hill said was true. They just wanted to win, no matter what.

The Florida debacle that tipped the presidency to “my brother” George was the Bush family operation at its bare-knuckled best, darkening the 21st century. Only Shakespeare could have written it better, with the younger brother Jeb’s state as the battlefield for the mightiest political struggle since 1800.

Lawyers, operatives, judges, and the Supreme Court acted in concert to stop vote counting in Florida. Thomas made the 5-4 decision as savagely personal as “one man, one vote” gets. Democracy interrupted.

Then came the war in Iraq. One reason George W. Bush gave for the unilateral invasion: Saddam Hussein tried to kill his dad, he said, in an assassination attempt. Or did he aim to carry on the Gulf War his father George had started, to prove something? Again, it was personal, tribal, not the nation’s best interest. Far from it.

There’s nothing the Bushes put before family, not even country.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Copyright 2015

Screenshot: The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon/YouTube


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