At CPAC on Friday, Gov. Jeb Bush joined Sean Hannity on stage for a Q & A. Hannity’s final question for Bush was, “Do you believe America is exceptional and why do you love this country enough that you are going to go through the difficulty and trials and tribulations of running for office?”
You’d think this would be a no-brainer for any potential presidential candidate on the Republican side, especially someone like Jeb Bush, a member of one of the most powerful political families in our nation’s history — someone who has had a front row seat to American exceptionalism for most of his adult life.
Bush, now a self-proclaimed “reform conservative” (why the disclaiming adjective?), told Hannity, “I do believe in American exceptionalism,” but he neglected to list any reason why our country is exceptional and he ignored Hannity’s question about why he loves this country.
Instead, Bush waded into awkward territory by reminding everyone that he had been chairman of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia “for a couple years.” He said that he “fell in love with the Constitution again, being there in its presence.”
Unfortunately, the most memorable accomplishment of Bush’s tenure as chairman of the American Constitution Center was awarding Hillary Clinton the center’s Liberty Medal “in recognition of her lifelong career in public service and for her ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of women and girls around the globe.”
Bush said at the time, “Former Secretary Clinton has dedicated her life to serving and engaging people across the world in democracy. These efforts as a citizen, an activist, and a leader have earned Secretary Clinton this year’s Liberty Medal.”
If Jeb Bush becomes the Republican nominee, you can bet those words of fawning praise will show up in scores of “Hillary for President” ads.
But let’s get back to Hannity’s question about American exceptionalism and love of country. While it’s nice that Bush “fell in love with the Constitution again” after being in Philadelphia, he didn’t say why he loves it or why he believes this country is exceptional. Most patriotic Americans can think of a dozen reasons off the tops of their heads. How is it that the favorite son of the Republican establishment can’t even come up with a single reason?
Instead, Bush launched into an attack on President Obama. “This president has trampled over the Constitution. And put aside whether you like his beliefs or not — I imagine no one in this room does — the fact that he is disrespecting our history and the extraordinary nature of our country by doing what he’s done is deeply disturbing to me,” Bush said.
True enough, but that wasn’t the question. Why do you love this country? This should not be a difficult question, even for a “reform conservative.”
This is not to suggest that Gov. Bush is not patriotic or that he doesn’t love his country. But as Sen. Mike Lee said in his CPAC speech on Thursday, “A principled conservative doesn’t hide behind talking points – he tells you what he thinks and why.” Lee said that conservatives shouldn’t be looking for the “guy who can shout ‘Freedom’ the loudest” (or, I might add, the guy who shouts “Constitution” the loudest). Instead, Lee said conservatives should look for a principled conservative candidate, someone who is “conservative every day, not just during the campaign.”
As the sun begins to set on Obama’s presidency and we look toward 2016, love for country — at the very least — should ooze from every pore of the Republican nominee’s body and a belief in American exceptionalism should be evident in every word that flows from his lips. This should be the baseline minimal job requirement — no exceptions.