The Deep Derp of John Ellis Bush

Pardon the diversion from my usual focus on Vermont politics, but I just couldn’t resist.

When I first heard about Jeb Bush’s “Americans need to work harder” statement, two thoughts came mind:

1. Isn’t he supposed to be the “smart” Bush brother?

2. Is this really what it means to be a moderate, “responsible” Republican in 2015? And if so, how is the VTGOP going to try to package and sell this manure pile to Vermont voters?

I was paraphrasing his actual quote; here’s the original, as stated in his interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader:

“My aspiration for the country — and I believe we can achieve it — is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

There’s a lot of bad to unpack in that single paragraph, but let’s move on to Bush’s attempt to re-contextualize that little turd he laid on the heads of American workers:

“If we’re going to grow the economy people need to stop being part-time workers, they need to be having access to greater opportunities to work,” he told reporters.

… “You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means that people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success, they have money, disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government,” Bush said.

In actual fact, his clarification isn’t much of an improvement on the silver-spoon original.

What he’s basically saying is: our current malaise has nothing to do with business policies or Wall Street; it’s the workers’ fault and the government’s fault. Which is hard-core, right-wing horse hockey.

The underlying message is that government policies are preventing employers from offering full-time jobs. In fact, what the government does is try to set reasonable rules for full-time employment, and the response by many corporate employers is to keep a whole lot of people just below full-time level so they don’t have to offer reasonable terms.

So what Bush is really saying is, he wants to deregulate labor and let corporations set the terms.

Which might well create more full-time jobs, but they’d be astoundingly crappy full-time jobs. Does J.E. Bush really believe that 40 hours of Wal-Mart or McDonald’s pay will lead anyone to prosperity?

Well, I’m sure he’d also want to deregulate overtime so people would have the “opportunity” to work as much as they “want.”

Yeah, what America needs is a desperate workforce grateful for whatever crumbs fall from the table. (And desperate enough to see voluntary military service as a fruitful career choice.)

The real situation, that’s been playing out for decades, is this: Productivity has been climbing. Wages have been stagnant. The purchasing power of the working and middle classes has been eroding. Meanwhile, the investor class is raking in the dough, corporations are sitting on huge reserves of cash, and the tax code is rigged in favor of The One Percent.

Jeb Bush doesn’t want to address any of that. His answer is to let people work more hours — 40, 50, 60 hours a week, whatever it takes. That’s his only “solution” to wage stagnation. The only way to increase our purchasing power is to work harder.

See, his original statement is essentially unchanged.

And this is where we are in 2015: this is what it means to be the “responsible adult” Republican in the race for President. It’s not really a hell of a lot better than what Donald Trump or Bobby Jindal are peddling.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Bush also addressed climate change. His answers were equally disappointing. For starters, he acknowledged that the climate is changing, but questions how much human activity is to blame. And his policy is apparently to do nothing and wait for a deus ex machina:

“Ultimately, there’s going to be a person in a garage somewhere that’s going to come up with a disruptive technology that’s going to solve these problems and I think markets need to be respected in this regard.”

Ah yes, the magic gizmo.

Actually, Jeb, many of those magic gizmos are already here. But they need a helping hand to establish themselves in the marketplace — because existing energy sources get massive government handouts of their own.

…the natural gas and petroleum industries altogether accounted for about $2.8 billion in federal energy subsidies in the 2010 fiscal year and about $14.7 billion went to renewable energies, the Department of Energy found. The figures include both direct expenditures and tax credits.

Yeah, that’s the free market at work.

Bush went on to praise the “natural gas revolution” which he sees as a “by-product of American ingenuity and innovation, not any government program.”

Which is actually, factually wrong. Fracking processes were first developed through government-funded research in the 1970s, when energy companies refused to invest in such an unproven technique. Federal tax breaks encouraged energy companies to implement the new technology.

I’m not saying anything about the merits of fracking. What I am saying is that the “free market” doesn’t exist, that business is inherently risk-averse, and that if Jeb’s hypothetical “person in a garage” does, indeed, invent a world-changing gizmo, s/he will almost certainly need some public-sector support to get that gizmo to market.

And once again, if this is what passes for “responsible” Republicanism these days, color me unimpressed.

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