Jeb 'W.' Bush carries loyalty to his brother too far

Story highlights

  • Jeb Bush has supported many of the policies that got George W. Bush in trouble
  • Paul Begala: The last thing we need is a return to the disastrous presidency of "W"

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is a consultant to the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)"I'm my own man." With that declaration of independence, Jeb Bush sought to distance himself from the disastrous presidency of his big brother. The same day he made that statement, though, he listed his foreign policy advisers. The list had 21 names. Seventeen of them had been advisers to George W. Bush, according to The Washington Post.

Then, speaking at an off-the-record event in Manhattan last week, Jeb Bush said, "What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush."
Paul Begala
And then, in an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly that aired Monday, Jeb was asked, "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion (of Iraq)?" His answer: "I would've." He went on to repeat tired talking points about how the intelligence in 2003 had been "faulty."
    Two days after his interview with Kelly, Jeb tried to clean things up. But like your little brother when he was 2, the harder he tries to clean up his mess, the worse it gets. He told Sean Hannity, "I don't know what that decision would have been. That's a hypothetical, but mistakes were made, as they always are in life."
    Huh? What? Even with the benefit of a 48-hour delayed replay, Jeb can't answer a simple but powerful question: Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq? He doesn't know what decision would have been made -- made by him, it should be noted. He has no idea what he would do differently from his disastrous brother.
    John Ellis Bush seems hellbent on reprising his brother's debacles. Call him Jeb W. Bush. What's next -- Dick Cheney as veep? A dog named Barney? A "Mission Accomplished" banner?
    Clearly, Jeb wants to take America back to his big brother's foreign policy of invasion and occupation. Less well-known, perhaps, is how he mirrors Dubya's domestic agenda as well:
    • George W. Bush tried to partially privatize Social Security, which could have hurt seniors badly when stocks crashed in the Bush recession. Jeb Bush supported his brother's scheme, despite being governor of the state with the largest number of retirees. His current position should worry future retirees even more. He wants to raise the retirement age, guaranteeing a reduction in lifetime benefits for Gen Xers and beyond.
    • George W. Bush inherited the Clinton surplus -- the largest in history -- and turned it into the largest deficit in history. He did so in part through massive tax cuts, which disproportionately benefited the wealthiest Americans. Amazingly, Jeb Bush has reportedly turned for advice to an architect of his brother's tax cuts for the rich. Jeb has said this year, "I am proud of President Bush for standing for what's right as it relates to tax policy. ... And we should make the (Bush) tax cuts permanent." Here we go again.
    • Jeb's immigration proposal closely tracks his brother's path to legal status. This infuriates the GOP's conservative base. And if you want to see a tea partier's panties in a wad, remind him that Jeb's Common Core education plan is basically the little brother of W's No Child Left Behind.
    • In 2010, CNN's Candy Crowley asked Jeb Bush where he disagreed with his brother "publicly or privately." He said, "I'm the only Republican that was in office when he was in office as president that never disagreed with him. And I'm not going to start now." When Candy pressed him, Jeb said, "Till death do us part."
    These are not gaffes. They are sincere statements of belief, and we should take them as such. Even at this early stage of the 2016 campaign it is clear: Jeb Bush would take America back to the policies of his brother. He seeks a restoration of the presidency of George W. Bush.
    To be sure, familial loyalty is a good thing. But many Americans -- including the author of this column -- think George W. Bush was the worst president of their lifetime. The notion of repeating his reign of error is terrifying to us. I'm sure the Ford family all loved the son of the family patriarch, Henry. But they're too smart to bring back the Edsel.