So, I’m checking out the excellent profile of Jeb Bush’s religious outreach by Tim Alberta and Tiffany Stanley in the National Journal and was struck by something extraordinary. (Also, log onto the Hugniverse and check out Hugh’s interview with Alberta in the first hour yesterday.) About mid-way through the piece is a photo of a youthful Jeb hugging his father during his 1994 gubernatorial bid. It is a moving picture and the familial affection is quite evident. That transparent genuine affection is in sharp contrast to the emotional content of photos of the Clinton family.
If the 2016 general election indeed ends up as another round of Bush v Clinton, as much as there will be a contrast of party and policy, there will be a contrast of family. The Bushes by all external appearances are a traditional, and large, family extending over several generations. The Clintons appear functional, in their own unusual way, and not much else.
The biographies, family histories, martial functions and dysfunctions of all the parties involved are so widely known that there is no need to recount them here. No family is without its foibles, problems and embarassments. The Clintons have clearly gotten by as a family, but they seem dangerously close to the sort of family breakdown that, at least according to Robert Putnam, defines the less blessed and successful in our nation. This is particularly obvious when you consider Bill Clinton’s family of origin. They appear to survive in spite of their difficulties, but those difficulties never seem to be entirely absent from the picture.
The Bushes by contrast seem to have completely conquered the various demons that have confronted them. Everybody knows the story of W and his substance issues, and the Alberta piece tells the story of Jeb’s conversion to Catholicism when he felt like he was “coming up short at home.” When it comes to family, the Clintons seem a story of survival while the Bushes seem a story of victory.
Which brings me to the key sentence in the Alberta piece:
Bush wants Christian conservatives to pay attention to what he’s done, not just to what he says.
Alberta wonders if that is effective electoral politics. Only the next year and one half can decide that. But when it comes to doing family, Jeb, and the rest of the Bush clan, appear clearly to have it right. Whatever the outcome of the election, the nation will be well served by being able to witness that.