In 1992, I joined the presidential campaign staff of a young, inspiring Democratic governor, Bill Clinton, who succeeded in ousting incumbent President George H.W. Bush. A generation later, I have decided to actively support the expected campaign of President Bush’s son, Jeb — very possibly against President Clinton’s wife, Hillary.
My choice is not a consequence of a change in my own philosophy – but rather a change in the way too many mainstream Democrats understand America’s role in the world. Because it is central to my decision, let me unpack this before discussing Jeb Bush in particular.
The euphoria that accompanied the end of the Cold War, the advent of the internet and the beginning of a new millennium sadly gave way to a decade of terrorist attacks, wars and financial crises. Much of the left-of-center public, perhaps in dismay over this dramatic turn-of-events, seemed to minimize the security threats, and forget the central lessons of the epic first half of the last century. Those lessons are, to my mind, that terrible evil exists in the world, that failing to confront it early can have cataclysmic consequences, and that the best antidote to its spread is an America confident in its core values, and strong in its global leadership.
During the Cold War, administrations from both parties reflected broad bipartisan public sentiment in the struggle against Soviet expansionism. Most famously, President Kennedy said in his inaugural that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” In spite of later divisions over Vietnam, it remained politically untenable to advocate abdication of global American leadership for the rest of the century.
But once the Cold War was won, many Americans felt that the costs and burdens of US global leadership were no longer theirs to bear. The debate over the 2003 invasion of Iraq had a massively polarizing impact, causing many mainstream Democrats to reject American global engagement in even its broadest sense. And, eventually, it led to the election of a president who ran on a platform of ending wars without regard to achieving specific objectives or to possible subsequent threats from the regions in question. Before even that, though, it led to my “political North Star,” Senator Joe Lieberman, being re-elected to the Senate in 2006 as an independent – having lost the Democratic primary over his support of the war.
Ironically, in that instance it turned out Senator Lieberman was following my lead. A year earlier, months after the 2004 Presidential election in which I supported the Democratic challenger, I became uncomfortable enough with the rhetoric of isolationism coming from leaders in the party that I officially changed my affiliation to independent. In the decade since, I have supported candidates who continued to advocate for a strong American role in global affairs, whatever their party. During that period I did not have enough conviction to be actively involved in the general elections of the two presidential campaigns, but did lend some support to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination.
Today, the world seems even more dangerous than during the tensest moments of the Cold War. This is in no small measure a consequence the current administration’s ambivalence toward American leadership, and the use of all forms of American power.
To put a finer point on it, there is no greater threat to freedom and security around the world than the regime in Iran. Recent US policy has ignored the regime’s theological foundations and motivations; its long record of active support for global terrorism; its abysmal record regarding the human rights of its citizens; its genocidal threats and regional ambitions (even as they manifest themselves in real time); and instead it has engaged in negotiations over its nuclear program – with a presumption that they are being conducted in good faith. With each passing week, those negotiations seem more likely to result in precisely the opposite outcome of their supposed objective – depriving the Iranian regime of the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
Given this reality, and given the direction in which the administration has influenced the Democratic party, even including many who until recently seemed very well grounded in the nature of the threats at hand, I have decided that the stakes are too high for me to sit comfortably on the sidelines as a presidential campaign gets underway.
Meanwhile, in my business life, twice in recent years, I happened upon individuals who had interacted with Governor Jeb Bush. These individuals could not say enough about Bush’s intellect, his character, and his integrity. Recently I had the chance to meet him for myself and very quickly understood what they had meant. Asked what it was America most needed at this moment, he unhesitatingly replied “Optimism,” and said of discussing running for president with his family, “We were not going to do it if we couldn’t do it joyfully.” Unsurprisingly, he expresses deep conviction about the imperative of reasserting American global leadership, and views the resurgence of violence in many corners of the globe as a function of the vacuum created by its absence.
Without a doubt, there are a host of issues on which I will profoundly part company with Governor Bush. However, those issues are simply less central to me these days given the state of the world and the need to renewing strong American leadership. With the opportunity to support a candidate who understands this imperative, and who comes with so many outstanding personal attributes, the decision to be an enthusiastic supporter of Governor Bush’s candidacy has become obvious to me.
Sadly, many people are slow to look beyond Governor Bush’s last name. To prejudge Jeb Bush as a member of his family, rather than the content of his own character, seems, well, prejudiced. It represents not just flawed logic, but it is also deeply un-American. In my support for Jeb, I don’t for a moment regret having been involved in the campaigns of opponents to both his father and brother.
In contrast to many of those who will join me in Governor Bush’s corner, I have nothing but continuing admiration for Hillary Clinton and her lifetime commitment to serving the public. I am proud to have supported her for Senate, and in the 2008 primaries, and still wish she had been successful in that effort. But she deeply disappointed me recently when she aligned herself with the Administration’s threat to veto a Congressional bill to strengthen Iranian sanctions, rather than with her former Democratic colleagues like Bob Menendez and Chuck Schumer. And while she had a strong record of support for American leadership in the Senate, too much of the Democratic infrastructure is now dominated by those who do not.
And so, without reservation, and with the abiding hope for a less divisive political culture at home and much stronger American leadership abroad, I look forward to helping Governor Jeb Bush become the 45th President of the United States. And it is my hope that you will join me in getting involved.