Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — for Republicans and the media, anyway. In 2012, the national news media that couldn’t be bothered to look up the college records or classmates of a first-term Senate backbencher running for President suddenly found the high-school life of teenage Mitt Romney utterly fascinating. The media painted him as a rich-snob bully, a meme that continued even after the source admitted he was passing along third-hand hearsay, and after the family of the high-school prank victim ripped news outlets for exploiting the story about the now-deceased young man, and called the narrative “factually inaccurate.” Romney ended up in the ridiculous position of being a man in his sixties apologizing for pranks in his teens, but the aftereffects lingered … not coincidentally, during the summer when Team Obama conducted a massive character assassination campaign against the Republican nominee.
Now, the Boston Globe puts the meme in la même chose:
Jeb, as he was known, should have been an easy fit in that elite and ivied world. His much-accomplished father and his older brother had both gone to Andover; no one was surprised that Jeb had followed suit.
But this Bush almost ran aground in those first, formative prep school days. He bore little resemblance to his father, a star on many fronts at Andover, and might have been an even worse student than brother George. Classmates said he smoked a notable amount of pot — as many did — and sometimes bullied smaller students.
Resolutely apolitical despite his lineage, he refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club and often declined even to participate in informal bull sessions with classmates. In a tumultuous season in American life, he seemed to his peers strangely detached and indifferent.
“He was just in a bit of a different world,” said Phil Sylvester, who said he was a Bush roommate for the early part of 10th grade. While other students “were constantly arguing about politics and particularly Vietnam, he just wasn’t interested, he didn’t participate, he didn’t care.”
The Globe manages to get two memes in one. There are eight mentions of Vietnam in this piece, which ends up painting his older brother George’s service as more honorable than Bush’s registration for the draft and his refusal to take part in anti-war protests. No, seriously:
“I registered. . . . I would have gone, I got the physical. I was declared 1A, and the draft was eliminated,” Bush said. Asked how voters considering him as a potential commander-in-chief might view his less-than-enthusiastic view of serving in Vietnam, Bush urged that it be seen in the context of that war and that time. “I was 18,” he said. “I’m 61 years old now.”
Unlike his brother George, who was a member of the National Guard from 1968 to 1974, Bush didn’t volunteer for any kind of military service. Nor did Bush follow his father and brother’s footsteps by going to Yale. He went instead to the University of Texas in Austin, majored in Latin American studies, graduated in an unusually speedy 2½ years, and married Columba.
How old am I? I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush got attacked for enlisting in the National Guard. Heck, I’m old enough to remember when Bill Clinton got lauded and defended by the media for avoiding the draft through college deferments. And I’m certainly old enough to recall when the media thought it would be rude to look more deeply into Barack Obama’s college career to get a sense of the newcomer. Now that a two-term governor of one of the US’ most populous states is running for office, the media needs to find out whether a 14-year-old kid dunked classmates in the dumpsters at Andover in 1968. Gotcha. In more senses than one.
As I’ve written repeatedly, I’m not enthused by a Jeb Bush candidacy. He’s the past of the GOP at the moment when we should be tending our future, and when we have plenty of talent ready to lead us in that direction. Unfortunately, we still have a national news media stuck in the past too — at least when it comes to Republican presidential candidates. It’s not just la même chose, it’s déjà vu all over again.