And what’s a good political speech without a heavy splash of American optimism? Bush lambasted runaway federal spending and inadequate public schools but promised a better future.
“Tonight, as surely as you sit here, the fundamentals are aligning in a way that could allow us to race past our global competitors and usher in a true American Renaissance for the next hundred years,” he said. “It’s there for the taking if we have the courage to grab it and push beyond the problems that divide us today.”
Bush is not as skilled an orator as Rubio or President Obama -- the reaction in the room Friday night was subdued --but he too understands the power of storytelling. He recycled an anecdote he’s used before about a mother with a disabled child, Berthy Aponte, he met when he ran for governor in 1998. She insisted on escorting him on a tour of group homes and “wouldn’t let me come up for air.” The experience convinced him to focus on helping the developmentally disabled after he was elected.
“All this flowed from my personal connection with Berthy,” he said. “We used to be the party that understood personal connections and that they mattered. We need to be that party again. “
Before the speech, when word leaked that he had asked not to be included in the CPAC straw poll of possible presidential candidates, Bush appeared to be letting his ego get the best of him. But coupled with the meaty speech, his avoidance of the popularity contest allows him to retain an aura of gravitas and remain above the fray.
“I liked the way he ran Florida, because he didn’t play politics. He stayed true to his constituents,” said 37-year-old Kamran Etemad of New York City, wearing a “Jeb!’16” sticker on his jacket lapel. He was among about 100 people who waited in line earlier Friday to get Bush’s autograph in his new book. “I believe he’s a different kind of Bush, more centrist-right, and that’s the kind of president the country needs.”
Another Bush presidency? “Definitely no,” said 20-year-old Dimitri Skambas, a sophomore at Syracuse University, who was lurking around the book-signing. “Right now the country is trying to get out of a hole that his brother got us into. There’s so much negativity around the Bush name at a time the party is trying to rebrand itself. Besides, we have a slew of new young candidates to lead us into a positive future.”
But by virtue of his last name, his record as a two-term governor of the nation’s largest swing state, and his passion for politics and policy, the 60-year-Bush isn’t riding into the sunset just yet.