Clearly Romney and Bush disagree about immigration policy. But the key difference, I think, is this: Mitt Romney is a patrician who lacks the common touch, but wants to show he doesn’t think he’s better than the rest of us. Jeb Bush is a partician who possesses the common touch to some extent, but seems bent on showing his superiority.
That’s my takeaway from the former Florida governor’s obnoxious claim that, unlike Romney, he wants to win with “purpose, meaning, and integrity” and without getting “sucked into other people’s agendas.” And it’s my takeaway from the way he seems to relish taking a confrontational approach towards to conservatives who aren’t on-board with his some of his views.
Did George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush publicly ascribe disagreement by fellow Republicans with their views to bad motive or lack of character? Not that I recall. I’m pretty sure that neither claimed he would not seek the presidency unless he can do so doing so “joyfully.” Politics is not about personal joy, and neither is governance. Nor should they be. Politics is an inherently brutal endeavor and governance an exruciatingly difficult one.
Politicians have to pretend they are above polticis; it’s part of the endeavor. But Jeb Bush is insisting that he is. I think we should be wary of a campaign founded on an express claim of moral superiority. That’s Obama-style politics, with a bit of John McCain thrown in. It’s not the way of past Bushes.
Moreover, like most claims of moral superiority, Jeb Bush’s claim is false. He finds fault with Romney for allegedly tailoring his views on immigration to the agendas of other people. But the same can be said about Bush’s views on the subject.
In the past, Bush has supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In 2012, he told Charlie Rose:
You have to deal with this issue. You can’t ignore it, and so either a path to citizenship, which I would support–and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives–or … a path… to residency of some kind.
And in January 2013, Bush wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
The only alternatives to increased immigration are mounting debts or reduced social services. A practicable system of work-based immigration for both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants—a system that will include a path to citizenship—will help us meet workforce needs, prevent exportation of jobs to foreign countries and protect against the exploitation of workers.
However, in his book about the subject, released not much later in 2013, Bush rejected a path to ciizenship for illegal immigrants, advocating only that they be permitted to remain in the U.S. as lawful residents.
A cynic would say that Bush was trimming his position with an eye towards a presidential run, joyful or otherwise — in other words, that he was getting sucked into other people’s agendas. Count me among those cynics.