Opinion

The monarchic case for Bush 2016

Because democracy's time is up...

The prospect of a 2016 race between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton understandably fills our commentators with existential despair.

It doesn't look good for a democracy, especially one that prides itself on its equal opportunity and meritocracy, to have the wife of a former president run against the brother and son of a former president. It looks more like a scenario out of a banana republic than the great United States of America.

At least that's what I think on most days.

But on some days...

On some days, I think back on Athens, the Roman Republic, Venice, and 19th century Great Britain, and realize that all of the West's most successful empires were aristocratic and plutocratic republics.

Maybe a country of the size, complexity, and power of the United States can't be a democracy.

Maybe a country of the size, complexity, and power of the United States shouldn't be a democracy.

And, after all, the U.S. is clearly moving beyond democracy on its own power. An ineffective legislature, a power-grabbing executive, a strong state, a Praetorian guard — all of this is looking very late Roman Republic. Maybe a line of succession would just make things official. And Rome still had a couple more centuries of greatness ahead of it after its turn to caesarism.

Maybe Jeb Bush isn't the man America needs in spite of his last name. Maybe he's the man America needs because of his last name.

Think of all the advantages he brings as a princeling.

The first, obviously, is the Bush network. This is actually invaluable. The United States government just might be the most complex thing on the planet. It spends trillions of dollars, does everything under the Sun, and is simply impossible to manage. Aside from things like going to war, any president's most important decisions are appointments, because almost none of the decisions are made by him, but rather by people he appointed. In the end, it's about who you know.

The second is about the Bush experience. I don't think it's possible for us mere mortals to imagine what it's like to be the son and brother of presidents. For pretty much all his life, Jeb has been privy in the most intimate ways to the inner workings of the Federal government in a way that perhaps nobody else in America can match. (Let's not forget, either, that even before becoming vice president, his father had a string of crucial jobs like UN ambassador, chairman of the Republican Party, ambassador to China, and director of the CIA.) Being a part of that family might, in a way, be more valuable experience than if Jeb had been, say, his father's chief of staff. The truly important insights about governing are gleaned over decades of listening late at the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables, once tongues are loosed. "So-and-so's a real son of a bitch, keep him close but don't ever trust him." Or: "I learned the hard way that the single most important thing when dealing with the Chinese is..."

And the third is, frankly, entitlement. Jeb Bush's best moment as a candidate so far has been at the CPAC stage, where he held firm on his immigration stance despite tough questioning and a tough crowd. He didn't try to finesse it, and his attitude was completely relaxed. Yeah, that's my position, here's why, but if you don't like it, deal with it. You don't have to be born into privilege to have that sort of attitude, but it helps. The case against democracy has always been that in a democracy, everybody looks out for his or her own special interest, and every leader is beholden to special interests; the case for monarchy, meanwhile, is that a monarch might be good or bad (and so are presidents and prime ministers!), but he is the only person who doesn't owe anyone anything. Jeb Bush, because he is a Bush, doesn't owe anyone anything — and that is a very valuable thing to have in a president.

Bush '16, because democracy's time is up.

I don't know if it's the change we need. I don't know if it's change we can believe in. But it would certainly be change.

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