Coronavirus Pandemic — Jeb Bush and the Governors’ Hour

Policy

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Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida, holds a news conference at the Florida Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on October 26, 2005. (Mark Wallheiser / Reuters)

Yesterday, I recorded a podcast with Jeb Bush, here. The main topic, of course, is the pandemic and how to handle it. This is the governors’ hour, you might say: The burden of setting policy — locking down, opening back up — falls on them. Bush was governor of Florida for two terms and knows the nature of the job, including in times of disaster. (True, the pandemic is a unique disaster.)

“The great chance to serve is when people really need it,” he says. Now is “the time to suit up.” He has seen governors in action, serving very well. What the good ones have in common, he says, is a refusal to politicize the pandemic. They are just going about their jobs.

“Servant leadership is great politics too,” he notes. Governors who have set petty politics aside “have seen soaring numbers.”

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He strongly approves of Florida’s incumbent governor, Ron DeSantis. “Florida has slowly opened up — very cautiously — as is appropriate.” Bush gives a snapshot of Florida in normal times: “Disney alone is a huge economic driver.” Then you have “the convention business, the airlines, the cruise industry, the whole visitor industry.” Something like 110 million people visit Florida every year.

These days? The challenge is severe, of course.

Because it is the governors’ hour, it is federalism’s hour. Bush says that each state — with different populations, different geography, etc. — must address the pandemic in its own way. “You can’t nationalize something like this.”

What’s more, “individuals have to take this seriously. We have to open up. We can’t quarantine ourselves into a depression.” And this requires that people “accept personal responsibility.” “The idea that you’re a manly man because you walk around without a mask on, where there’s contact with other human beings, is ridiculous.”

I ask Bush about spending — the federal government’s spending, in particular. Emergency spending is well and good, he says. But the danger is, lawmakers will seize the opportunity to carry out a political agenda, an agenda not really connected to the emergency. “If we get to the point where we socialize all risk going forward, that’s a pact with the devil.”

How about Campaign 2020? Will we have a campaign without conventions, handshaking, baby-kissing, and all those well-loved trappings (at least well loved by some of us)? It is hard for Bush to imagine conventions this year. “But everything is hyper-politicized now.” He then sketches out perceptions: “If you’re a Republican, you want to open up the economy. If you’re a Democrat, you want to keep people safe. The other side views that as, You want to destroy the economy if you want to keep people safe, and, You want people to die if you want to open the economy. I mean, that’s not how normal people think.”

But in our overheated political environment, Bush says, you may have a Republican convention, because the attitude is, “We’re gonna show ’em.”

We also discuss balloting — how to conduct the 2020 elections. I, for one, am a ballot hawk. (I’ve made up that phrase in recent weeks.) I want things to be tight. I’m not crazy about early voting, mail-in voting, and so on and so forth. I’m an old voter-ID man. But this year, I’m feeling loosey-goosey. I think we should entertain options that would not be entertainable — at least by me — in normal times.

Bush returns once more to federalism: Each state must handle things in the fashion most appropriate to that state. There should not be a uniform policy set by Washington. In Florida, Bush says, early voting, absentee voting, and all the rest has worked very well. And the belief that such voting disadvantages Republicans, he says, is a myth.

In this podcast, we also talk about China and other issues. We end by talking about Jeb Bush’s extraordinary parents. You may enjoy the entire conversation, as I did. Again, our podcast is here.

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