Former Florida Governor and future Republican presidential primary concession speech-deliverer Jeb Bush‘s prosciutto-handed penchant for exploiting tragedy was on brilliant display this week in a pair of unrelated yet telling moments.
First, there was his odd decision to bring up a space program disaster without knowing even the most basic details surrounding it. At a Concord, N.H. town hall meeting, Jeb! had just finished praising the idea of Moonbase Gingrich, and probably felt it was time to remind the crowd that he used to be a “Gubner” and knows how to be “Very Serious,” so he completely went off on a tangent about that time he spoke a memorial service for some shuttle, whose name he couldn’t retrieve, that blew up in some year beginning with two-thousand.
The audience tried to help him out, but he couldn’t quite get there:
I was thinking, you were going to bring up the tragedy that took place, I will never forget that, when I went as governor of Florida, to the tarmac for a tribute to the astronauts, that died. I think it was 2005, maybe — um , yeah. [audience: Christa McAuliffe?] No, the other one, 2002. In the 2000s. It was horrible. It’s a reminder that this is a dangerous endeavor, but it is worth us, for all sorts of reasons, to be engaged in it.
The audience was also no help, suggesting that maybe Jeb was governor during the 1986 Challenger disaster, and I swear one of them said “You mean Porkins?'” But the date they were all looking for was 2003. Yes, I had to Google it, but I’m not the one bringing it up at a campaign event, then spinning my tires trying to remember the year it occurred instead of saying “the astronauts who died in that tragic accident.”
Still, I’m sure the Jeb’s memorial was every bit as sincere and moving as his retelling:
Yes, let’s never forget this person whose name I’m clearly seeing for the first time.
Now, if this had all come up in an interview, or at a debate, I’d be the first one to say the guy deserves a break, but he brought it up. And yes, it was “horrible,” horrible that Jeb tried to score gravity points by bringing up his memorial to a disaster he couldn’t remember, and an astronaut whose name he couldn’t be bothered to learn.
Also this week, Jeb delivered this sanctimonious and contradictory reaction to Donald Trump‘s completely accurate assertion that George W. Bush was president when the World Trade Center was attacked:
How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) October 16, 2015
Setting aside the “jumbo shrimp” assertion that we were attacked AND W. kept us safe, and the media’s general refusal to admit that Trump’s observation was perfectly accurate and fair (especially since Obama gets blamed if a butterfly flaps its wings at ACORN headquarters), this episode reminded me of the thing that really bothered me about Jeb’s debate performance, where he made a similar statement.
Many in the media picked up on this, mainly to debate the political wisdom of Jeb defending his brother, but the really disgusting part was how Jeb blithely exploited the tragedy to deflect a minor attack at a debate, as demonstrated by the way he described it:
You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe. I don’t know if you remember, Donald… you remember the… the rubble?
Look past the triumphant sixth grade expression on Jeb’s face and try to understand what he means by “the rubble.” There were a few different names that people used to describe the site of that disaster in the wake of the attacks, most commonly “Ground Zero” and more locally “the pile,” but nobody called it “the rubble.”
Jeb obviously wasn’t referring to the actual rubble, which would be a terrible way to remind people that his brother “kept us safe.” He was short-handing the setting of his brother’s most famous photo op, the way a diner waitress would call out a “Bullhorn Special” to the line cook. This wasn’t a sincere reminder of a great tragedy, it was a blunt deflection.
In both cases, the message is clear: Never forget… those optics.
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