The Corner

Politics & Policy

Jeb’s Coriolanus Syndrome

I have been trying for a while to formulate what it is about Jeb Bush that has caused me, unexpectedly, to prickle. Below, Rick helps. Comparing Jeb to Ted Kennedy, he observes:

Each third guy seems to have felt an enormous pressure to run — to satisfy his family, to satisfy his sense of himself within his family. And each third guy resented it.

Peggy Noonan says something related in her column today:

There [is] a sense he [is] waiting to be appreciated.

The first goes a ways toward explaining the second, I think, and if so, perhaps I can explain my discomfort this way: Jeb has Coriolanus Syndrome.

Coriolanus is, of course, the title character of a Shakespeare tragedy, the general outline of which is taken from Plutarch’s Lives. In Shakespeare’s telling, Caius Marcius Coriolanus — virtuous warrior and true aristocrat — runs for consul, the highest elected office in the Roman Republic, at the behest of an ambitious mother. He wins the support of the Roman Senate, but schemers turn the people against him. Not inclined to flatter, he responds by railing against the easily swayed masses, whom he “disdain[s] with cause” for failing to recognize true virtue among them.

The GOP primary will not end in banishments (probably), but one can sense a bit of “disdain with cause” from Jeb. In South Carolina, last weekend:

If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.

And responding to reporters asking about campaign pay cuts:

Blah, blah, blah. That’s my answer: Blah, blah, blah.

Can one blame Jeb? By record and character, he is surely among the most creditable candidates in Republican politics. He would be a responsible executive, if not a flawless one. Then along come Donald Trump and Ben Carson and this foul mood among the voters. The crows peck at the eagles.

But Jeb has misread the moment. Conservatives are bucking not because people are curs (though there’s some of that), but because many people feel abandoned by their representatives, if not betrayed, and not on questions of passing interest, but on questions of principle and identity. If that anxiety has alighted on Donald Trump as its spokesman, it is at least in part because more responsible leaders have refused to take it up.

Maybe the country would be better off with a third President Bush; certainly that would be better than a President Trump. But it is the voters’ to decide, and Jeb has seemed, more and more, like he’d just as soon banish them from the equation.

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