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Two Political Dynasties Relaunch with Pomp, Policy and Real Potential

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It was noted by–well, by almost everyone–that Jeb Bush didn’t include his last name in his new campaign logo. This was mistakenly seen as an attempt to dodge his heritage. Quite the contrary: last-name-dropping is a privilege available only to the dynastic or the notorious, as is the accompanying exclamation point. We have seen Hillary! as a candidate in the past, although for 2016, her entire name has been excised and cleverly replaced by a forward-pointing arrow projecting from the crossbar of an H. In any case, the truly shocking rebellion inherent in Bush’s logo was a matter of color. In the past, the Bushes have been people of navy blue: Yale blue, a “serious” color according to the founding Puritans. Jeb! is red, perhaps a subliminal reminder that he did not take his legacy to Yale but to the University of Texas. (Red is a next-door neighbor to UT’s burnt orange.) It may also have been an attempt to reach out to the red states, to remind his base that he was a conservative Southern governor. Or not.

The previous paragraph should be considered a parody of the current state of political analysis. There were more serious things going on in the strong and substantive announcement speeches made by Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. The most serious involved topics that the candidates elided. Bush did not talk about the economic distortions caused by the preferential treatment of the financial sector in the tax code; Clinton, surprisingly, did. Clinton didn’t talk about the distortions in effective governance caused by the rise of public employees’ unions and regulators; Bush did, which was not a surprise. The omissions should be at the heart of the coming debate.

Clinton didn’t call for breaking up the big banks or for a tax on financial transactions. But she hinted. And she made an important observation about the financial sector’s focusing “too much on complex trading schemes and stock buybacks, too little on investments in new businesses, jobs and fair compensation.” This was generally seen as a tilt to the “left”–and these are arguments that opponents like Bernie! (Sanders) have made. It is certainly a clear break from her husband’s bromance with the financial wizards. But it is more a rebalancing than a lurch, an acknowledgment that the tax code has been unfairly, and surreptitiously, rewritten to favor big corporations and hedge funders. Here’s an idea for H>: Why not lower the corporate-tax rate, which is paid disproportionately by small businesses that don’t have the lobbying power to generate loopholes, and replace it with a modest transaction tax that would hit the massive stock churning that adds nothing to the economy except fat bonuses for fatter cats?

Bush acknowledged part of the problem: “We will … challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in the nation’s capital.” Clinton acknowledged the paralysis of Big Government but not the steps that need to be taken to reform it. By contrast, this was the strongest part of Bush’s speech. He cited his clear record of taking on the labor unions and bureaucrats who had tied Florida’s education system in knots; he said he would do the same in Washington, which is something that Clinton cannot do, given the anti-reform straitjacket lashed to her party by the unions and various brands of “activists” who lobby for impractical regulations. Here’s an idea for Jeb!: Why not propose a pilot project for 21st century governance? Why not ask Congress to lift civil service job protections for the Department of Veterans Affairs? After all, government simply can’t be effective if it isn’t accountable–and it can’t be accountable if ineffective employees can’t be fired.

When I ask people about a Bush-Clinton race, the most common reaction is a grimace. Americans are wary of dynasties yet susceptible to them–going all the way back to that string of Virginia aristocrats and assorted Adamses who ran the country for its first 40 years. There is a certain similarity, given their policy differences, to the current Bush and Clinton iterations: both are policy wonks, both are reticent, neither is a sterling public performer. But both offer plenty of government experience, a much underrated commodity in an era too impatient for change and not wise enough for reflection.

Both candidates offer something fresh too. For Clinton it is, obviously, her gender. I doubt a man would have even thought to deliver this line: “You see the top 25 hedge-fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined.” For Bush, it is his melting-pot family, the joy and strength it and his supporters radiate. Yes, they are boomer dynasts, but a contest between a woman and a neo-Latino could turn out to be a dynamic advance for American politics.

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