In one sense, the speculation about Jeb is based on a myth that doesn’t really hold up: that Jeb was the Bush son who was supposed to be President. The Bush saga runs like this: For decades Jeb was the studious son who might one day be presidential material. George W. was the cutup. My own view is that the contrast between Jeb’s virtues and George W.’s vices is exaggerated. Wasps to the core, Bushes don’t sit down and talk about dynastic roles, much less assign them. They’re more likely to discuss sports or tell mildly off-color jokes.
Those who think “Bush fatigue” is pre-emptively fatal to Jeb’s chances may be underestimating the American affinity for brand names. The Bushes aren’t kings; in managementspeak, they’re a line of related products that most Americans recognize and have chosen on three (1988, 2000 and 2004) of the four occasions they’ve been on offer. Will we have a chance to buy another? George W., whose approval ratings are rising as the years pass, has said he’d like his brother to try for it.
It’s possible that the choice will come down to the Bushes and another familiar American product: the Clintons. Perhaps the two clans will soon join Lancashire and York, Gladstone and Disraeli, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and the Yankees and the Red Sox as one of history’s great rivalries. Remember: the Clintons have renamed the family foundation the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, while Jeb’s son George P. is seeking statewide office in Texas. This could go on forever.