Is Jeb Bush a Republican Obama?

David Frum argues that Jeb Bush is, in some important ways, a Republican Barack Obama. Frum’s essay is worth reading in its entirety, but here is a summary of his case:

Both Jeb Bush and Barack Obama are men who have openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance. Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush in Mexico, Venezuela, and at last in Cuban-influenced Miami.

Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being “between two worlds”: Obama, in his famous autobiography; Bush, in his speeches. Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new chosen identity.

Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is. Both have built their campaign for president upon a deep commitment to fundamental transformation of their nation into what they believe it should be.

It’s understandable that Barack Obama, politically ambitious and half black, would want to make a name for himself as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago. By contrast, it seems quirky for Jeb Bush to have choosen an Hispanic identity, as Frum shows Bush, in effect, did.

Still, there’s nothing problematic about Bush’s choice unless Frum is right in saying that underneath it lies a “sharp critique” of America and a desire to transform it fundamentally.

Here is Frum’s case for this view of Bush:

Jeb Bush’s enthusiasm for immigration, even when the immigrants are unskilled, even if they break the law, goes so deep that he even sometimes ventures to suggest that the personal characteristics of immigrants are to be preferred over those of the native-born. Here for example is an informal Jeb Bush speaking to a friendly interviewer, National Review’s Jay Nordlinger, early in 2014. “If we’re going to grow at 4% a year, we have to have young, aspiring people be able to create dynamic activity. And we can’t do that with our existing demographics.”

Bush seems to have something more in mind than just the familiar (if overstated) claim that immigration can counter the aging of the population. He seems to think that there is some quality in the immigrants themselves that is more enterprising—more dynamic to use his favorite term—than native-born Americans. This is not only a positive judgment on the immigrants themselves. It is also a negative judgment on native-born Americans.

Is this assessment of Jeb Bush fair? I haven’t followed him closely enough to say.

However, there are signs that Frum is on to something. Negativity about native-born Americans might help explain the hostile attitude Bush at times displays toward the Republican base. And the smug sense of moral superiority emanating from this proud “biculturalist” (as Bush describes himself) does indeed put one in mind of Obama, though Obama at least reserved his clearest expressions of contempt for those in the opposing political party.

At a minimum, it will be difficult for Bush to come to terms with a Republican base whose position on immigration he apparently views not just as substantively misguided, but as an attack on his adopted identity.

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