Jeb’s pathetic “shame” defense: All that talk about marginalizing single moms was really directed at men!

Bush tries to defend the shaming of women "in a policy context," and totally misrepresents his Scarlet Letter law

By Joan Walsh

Published June 11, 2015 5:17PM (EDT)

  (AP/Ricardo Arduengo)
(AP/Ricardo Arduengo)

In a meeting with reporters covering his trip to Poland on Thursday, Jeb Bush was asked about his awful book “Profiles in Character,” and its advocacy of public shaming for single mothers and other wayward women. Bush’s Right to Rise PAC posted the 15-minute conversation on YouTube; he stands by what he wrote in 1995 in the last two minutes.

He also appears to dissemble about the motivation for Florida’s Scarlet Letter law, which became state policy while he was governor. It forced unmarried women putting a child up for adoption, who weren’t sure of the father’s identity, to publish their names, ages and details of their sexual histories (including partners’ names) in a newspaper.

Although all accounts of the law at the time described it as intended to protect fathers' rights, while also minimizing the chance of later custody challenges, Bush today defended the law as intended “to enhance the ability to collect child support.” There's no evidence the law had anything to do with child support.

Here's the question that raised the issues of public shaming, the Scarlet Letter law, and "Profiles in Character" (the reporter asking it is unidentified):

Governor, since you got here there’s been a number of stories examining your rhetoric and record regarding single mothers back home. There’s been some talk of a 1995 book you wrote in which you warned quote there was no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame, and a law that you allowed passed in Florida in 2001 and later repealed that required women who put their children up for adoption to publicly detail sexual history that might identify the father. Have your views changed since the book and with regard to the law do you have any regrets as to how it was handled?

While allowing that his views on shame have “evolved,” Bush defended his book’s emphasis on “cultural indicators” of American decline. “My views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of their children haven’t changed at all, he said, noting that “the country has moved in the wrong direction, with a 40 percent plus out of wedlock birthrate. It puts a huge challenge for single moms to raise children in the world that we’re in today.”

That’s when Bush segued into what seems to be a defense of the Scarlet Letter law. “Part of the reason this law was established was just that -- to assume that you can create a fatherless society and not have bad outcomes is I think the wrong approach. The purpose of the law was to enhance the ability to collect child support because men have a responsibility to take care of their children.”

But of course, since the law applied to women putting children up for adoption, it had nothing to do with child support.

Bush also let a reporter help him out on the question of public shaming, when she asked if he was thinking about “the role of shame” in “a policy context.” He answered quickly: “Yes, I was thinking of it in a policy context,” adding “and the focus was on men. This is the part that, if you read it, might become clearer, with this explanation.” Then he wrapped the conversation.

Of course it’s clear from the chapters of the book that have circulated that his focus was mainly on the sexual activities of women – unwed mothers, cohabitating females, the daughters of absent fathers. Bush is now trying to spin his cultural fixation as being about men – and he’s counting on the fact that the book is out of print, and wasn’t widely read at the time.

It wasn’t a best-seller, he joked. “It may have generated about 10,000 sales.”

The Bush non-campaign responded to the controversy yesterday. “Anyone can take cheap shots, but Governor Bush has dedicated himself to helping low-income kids in broken homes, single moms, and victims of domestic abuse so that they can achieve their dreams,” spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger told Business Insider. “That’s what he is all about.”

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2016 Elections Jeb Bush Profiles In Character Public Shaming Scarlet Letter Law Single Mothers