Jeb Bush Says He’s Not His Brother on Foreign Policy; Do We Buy It?

If you were wondering how Jeb Bush would handle foreign policy as president, the answer is fourfold, the first three based on his recent talk in Chicago and the fourth based on reality. His global outlook will not be like President Barack Obama’s, and it won’t be a carbon copy of his brother’s, former president George W. Bush, either.

Nor will he be taking a leaf directly out of his father’s book. Finally, the fourth: Scrap those last two. Jeb Bush isn’t necessarily going to see eye-to-eye on every issue with his father and brother, but there are a number of signs that suggest he will probably be more like his brother and father than he’s going to openly admit.

Bush said during the Chicago talk that with two family members previously having held the presidency, he knows “that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs — sometimes in contrast to theirs.”

He continued: “I love my father and my brother. I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make. But I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experience.” That’s exactly the point, though. How are our political views shaped? And a related but different question: What trends do we see in how political views align?

The first question is subjective, because it depends on the person. Political views are shaped by life experience and personality, as Bush himself points out. But the second question is easier to grasp by the sides, as it has handles to grab onto.

There are certain tendencies in political partisanship and identity that show up often, though of course, not always. Firstly, family. Yes, sometimes children have radically different political views from their parents, but especially with age, political views have a tendency to align more with parents and how parents voted. This makes sense on two levels.

The first is political involvement. Even if individuals find themselves at complete odds with their parents’ political ideology and opinions, someone who grows up around politically engaged family members is more likely to be exposed to, and therefore interested in, political discussion.

The second is viewpoints. Speaking generally, if your family raises you around guns and with conservative Christian values, you’re more likely to be pro-NRA and anti-abortion. If abortion is an issue of immense importance to you, you’re more likely to be Republican. Seventy-one percent of atheists and agnostics were Democrats in 2011, while 61% of white Protestants were Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center.

This doesn’t always hold true. We all know that family that can’t talk about politics because the discussion ends in a fistfight; there’s a reason it’s not considered polite dinner conversation. But like religion, manners, morals, and a laundry list of other things, family is our first and most long-term introduction to politics, political opinions, and logic. For a more academic look on the issue, read Christopher Dawes and James Fowler’s work at the University of California on “Partisanship, Voting, and the Dopamine D2 Receptor Gene.”

They suggest that there’s a heritable genetic component to family partisanship and voter turnout. But correlation doesn’t imply causation, and nature versus nurture is often a very blurred or nonexistent line — there are a million less direct comparisons that could lead to the same result. Perhaps Republicans tend to have a slightly greater tendency for assertive behavior, and assertive behavior is tied to a certain gene; there are probably a million correlations that can be found.

That having been said, the paper is an interesting read if for no other reason than to see the strange ways people try to dissect politics in a quantitative way. It’s a difficult challenge to take on, and the article is unique, if nothing else.

Family is only one thing that tends to connect to political ideology. Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and region of origin all have their own connection to political ideology. Women and African Americans tend to lean more Democratic, and those with more money tend to lean Republican.

Getting back to Jeb Bush, though, we have a number of considerations to take into account. Not only is he a white, male Republican who went into politics, Jeb also has something else in common with his brother: a foreign policy team. In an interview with CBS, George W. Bush talked about his relationship with his father and his time in office.

When asked if he ever asked his father for advice, George W. said he didn’t remember doing so: “When it came time to make tough decisions like on the removal of Saddam Hussein, his words were very comforting. He said, ‘Son I know how hard a decision it is for you. I’ve made a similar type of decision, and God be with you.’ In other words, the relationship was not one of adviser to advisee, the relationship was one of loving dad to a son who was giving his all.”

This might seem to be in favor of Jeb Bush insisting he’d be making his own way, free of influence from family, especially given how reticent George W. Bush has been to comment on even Obama’s politics now he’s out of office, preferring to enjoy painting and being active in other ways. But the older Bush brother went on to say that his father didn’t advise on policy, because that was the role and job of his educated team of advisers.

“He [Bush Sr.] understood presidential decision making and he knows that each presidential decision requires advice from people who have studied an issue, and so I can’t remember an incident where he gave me advice on a particular issue,” said George W. Bush. The Washington Post has made a very nice Venn diagram of how Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team coincides with that of his brother, his father, and even Reagan. It is quite telling, to say the least.

There’s also the matter of Jeb Bush’s rhetoric. “Everywhere you look you see the world slipping out of control. We see the rise of non-state terror organizations like ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, still growing in parts of the world,” he said in Chicago. He, like many Republicans, feels that Obama has taken an uninvolved and weak approach to foreign policy, criticizing the administration for backing down on issues like nuclear weapons in Iran.

“The administration no longer seeks to prevent nuclear enrichment; now it seeks merely to regulate it,” he added, suggesting that Congress should vote to put sanctions in place if necessary and demand that any agreement negotiations be approved by the legislature. Intervention has not been the policy of Obama, with the president instead preferring to focus on issues at home and remaining more detached from issues overseas or seeking out diplomatic solutions.

“American leadership projected consistently and grounded in principle has been a benefit to the world,” said Jeb Bush in his Chicago talk. “I have doubts whether this administration believes American power is such a force.” He made a few cursory criticisms of his brother’s time in Iraq — specifically, the intelligence failure with weapons of mass destruction, but of all the criticisms to make, that was the safest and the one that George W. Bush himself would probably point to.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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