If Jeb Bush Is An Upstanding Husband, Then His "Fiery" Wife Is Insane

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The Bushies responded all last week to their daughters' boozing scandals through Laura Bush's press secretary Noelia Rodriguez, who said, "It is unfortunate that these young women are being denied a private life." Well, yes, it sure is. So since presidential brother Jeb Bush announced last week that he'll run again for governor of Florida in 2002, let's discuss his private life?at least as it appears in David Margolick's new Vanity Fair profile. The undercurrent of the piece is: Womanizing. Margolick damns Jeb's fidelity with faint praise, telling us, "People who know Jeb well say he is actually a devoted family man?pathologically faithful to his wife." (Note to Margolick: "pathologically" is not a synonym for "very.") There's no smoking gun, but the picture here is the familiar Big Swinging Diptych. On the one hand are the doth-protest-too-much disclaimers from political acquaintances: "I'd be as shocked to hear that Jeb Bush was fooling around," says one, "as I'd be if someone told me Bill Clinton wasn't." Yeah, and he should know, because he shook Bush's hand once at a fundraiser!

The other part of the diptych is a portrait of an odd-sounding marriage. Columba Bush, the "fiery Mexican beauty" and mother of those whom Bush père called the "little brown ones," is high-maintenance: "She is abusive both to him and to his aides," Margolick writes, "especially if they happen to be pretty women." When rumors of an affair between Katherine Harris and Jeb began to circulate last fall during the Florida recount controversy, Columba was about the only person not to dismiss them. Worse, she confronted Harris about them. If we're to trust Margolick, then maybe Jeb is an upstanding monogamist. But if he is, then his wife is insane.


Hot Rod Lincoln

Meanwhile, Jeb's classmate from Andover, Lincoln Chafee, has been in the news constantly since Jim Jeffords defected to the Democratic party. Chafee, the most liberal Republican left in the caucus, has decided to vent his ideological anguish daily?and see if he can milk concessions out of both parties with implicit threats to switch. Chafee is not in as strong a position as he thinks he is. He may well switch, but he would be stupid if he did. Rhode Island is not Vermont. It is the single most Democratic state in the union. It has an active urban ethnic (in this case, Italian) political machine, with an intricately elaborated set of rules and mutual obligations.

As in Massachusetts, these obligations are the only reason Republicans ever get elected. Democratic political machines produce votes by doing lots of (mostly good) things for lots of people?and they inevitably get trapped in conflicting commitments, tangled up in their own graft. Voters who need a holiday from that kind of government turn to prissy Protestant Republicans, who differ temperamentally from the Irish and Italian Democrats who run things?but seldom politically. In fact, as politics gets to be more cultural and less economic, New England's liberal Republicans are arguably more liberal than its ethnic Democrats. You'll find a lot more people who want to overturn Roe v. Wade in South Boston than you will in the Commonwealth Club, and gay marriage is a lot less popular in Pawtucket than it is at Brown.

The reason Chafee would be a fool to switch is that it would deprive him of his whole raison d'être. Becoming a Democrat would lock him into the same rigid system that he's supposed to provide an escape from. Liberal Republicans in Democratic states are in the traditional position of Americans in class-ridden England. Democrats, like the English, are not under any illusion that you're one of them, but they're immensely grateful to be able to complain to you about the daily compromises they make and the abuses to which they're subject. Joining them in their misfortune would not make them grateful; it would lead them to mistrust your motives and your sanity.

There is some evidence that Chafee does not understand this at all. He spent last week ruminating over the ironies that he and George W. Bush are so similar, and yet so different. "I went to school with his brother Jeb," Chafee told the Providence Journal. "Our fathers were friends at Yale and served together, and yet here I am voting against him fairly consistently. I wanted to make a human connection there." Unless I read him wrong, Chafee is making an argument that no one outside of Saturday Night Live would ever be moved to make: It's that a lot of political misunderstanding could be avoided if preppies would just stick together. The Congressional Prepster Caucus is something I hope I live to see.



The L.A. mayor's race that concluded last week must be the most curious election of recent years. Let me stipulate that although I've covered L.A. mayoral politics before, I did not follow the race between Antonio Villaraigosa and James Hahn, and know nothing about it, except that Hahn in the closing weeks of the campaign ran an ad that had a crack pipe in it and implied that Villaraigosa would be soft on crime.

So it's on purely journalistic terms that I was delighted to see Hahn win solidly. All my colleagues who were covering the campaign thought Villaraigosa had the election in the bag, and they had probably filed weeks ago their "news analysis" pieces about how the torch had been passed to L.A.'s growing Mexican plurality. Now they'll have to do some thinking to figure out exactly what happened, and that won't be easy. First and foremost, Hahn was the black candidate. His father Kenny was for decades a champion of fair housing, non-discrimination and public-works projects all over L.A., and black voters repaid his son with 80 percent of the vote. The other group that put Hahn over the top was Republicans, who gave him 79 percent. So it took a liberal Democrat to put together a coalition that has never existed?except in the silly dreams of Republicans like Jack Kemp?since the New Deal: the black candidate was the conservative candidate. Similarly bizarre is that women were more inclined than men to vote for Hahn?so the conservative candidate was the women's candidate.


Well-Read Barone

Michael Barone's biennial Almanac of American Politics has over the years become a hobby-book for Washingtonians?it's the Wisden, the Bill James, the Almanach de Gotha of political personalities?and the nine-month gap between election day and the appearance of the new edition, before the new electees have been assimilated, always sees a sharp drop-off in political insight. This year, Barone's meant-to-be-tendentious introduction was posted online by National Journal. While we're on the subject, he had a lot of interesting things to say about white Protestants, who make up 56 percent of the electorate, and are beginning to vote as a kind of bloc. They chose Bush over Gore by 63-34 last fall. And when you break out the religious right, Barone says, you find a group that differs from non-Christian voters even more widely than white voters deviate from blacks.

But Barone's single most interesting insight is that the turn of the millennium has seen a dramatic drop in split-ticket voting. After a period in the 1980s and 1990s when party affiliation was weakening, Americans are now voting the straight party line in higher numbers than at any time since the 1940s. There's obviously a growing perception (beats me where it comes from) that there are big differences between the parties. The actor John Cusack gave an interview in Details magazine this month (to New York Press' Andrey Slivka, incidentally) in which he described George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and practically everyone else in the cabinet as "crypto-fascists." The interview was so intemperate that one wanted to ask, "Why 'crypto'?" Its high point came when Cusack said of Bush, "He's sort of like this great symbol of inversion to me." What's "inversion"? You mean the 19th-century euphemism for homosexuality? Slivka must have given a puzzled look, because Cusack quickly explained, "?the inverse of the truth."

Oh, I see. Cusack doesn't dislike Bush because he thinks he's gay?he dislikes him because he thinks he's the Antichrist.


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