On the day Pope Francis arrived in Washington, D.C. for his momentous first visit to the U.S., presidential candidate Jeb Bush grabbed the opportunity to look very, very small. Bush took a bold stand against “multiculturalism,” a bugaboo of frightened conservatives everywhere, just a few hours before the Argentinian Pope, in halting English, praised us as a nation “largely built” by immigrant families.
But then, appealing to Donald Trump supporters has lately seemed more important to Bush, a Catholic convert, than living up to the example of Pope Francis. Maybe he was courting the likes of Ann Coulter, who tweeted in reply to the Pope’s moving defense of immigrants: “I’m an American and this is why our founders (not ‘immigrants’!) distrusted Catholics and wouldn’t make them citizens.”
With the GOP race newly cleared of former contender Scott Walker, Bush ran to the right in Iowa, telling voters at a Cedar Falls diner that the U.S. is “creeping toward multiculturalism,” which he described as “the wrong approach.” When a woman asked a compassionate-sounding question about how Bush would help refugees and immigrants assimilate, and "empower them to become Americans," Bush quickly answered: "We should not have a multicultural society."
He went on: "America is so much better than every other country because of the values that people share -- it defines our national identity. Not race or ethnicity, not where you come from. When you create pockets of isolation -- and in some cases the assimilation process is retarded because it's slowed down -- it's wrong. It limits peoples' aspirations."
Weirdly, CNN tried to defend Bush and insist that he’s a “policy wonk” who wasn’t talking about multiculturalism in the broad sense of tolerance, but “in the literal sense -- a social model in which cultures live in ‘isolated pockets,’ as he described them, rather than assimilating into society.”
But there’s no evidence that the U.S. is becoming a place in which Americans live in “isolated pockets.” That’s a fantasy of the far right, where America is a fractured Babel and newcomers are repudiating our core values – not coming here because they share them. It's like Bobby Jindal's fiction of Muslim "no-go zones" in London, where non-Muslims were supposedly banned. Jindal never backed down, despite London's mayor and others insisting he was delusional. The right needs its demons, whether they're real or not.
Only three weeks ago, Bush had one of his finest moments on the campaign trail, when he defended having answered a student’s question in Spanish, after Trump attacked him for it.
“[T]hese young beautiful kids all speak English but also speak Spanish and one of them asked me a question in Spanish and I answered it. That’s the reality of America, that’s the goodness of America. That’s the kind of America we want,” he said. “This is a diverse country. We should celebrate that diversity and embrace a set of shared values. Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in those shared values. He wants to tear us down.”
CNN cites such moments as evidence Bush couldn’t possibly have meant…well, exactly what he said, in Iowa on Tuesday. Bush has “misspoken” or had to clarify confounding statements so many times in the last few months, now some journalists are starting to already do it for him. What is the problem that Bush so frequently says things that contradict earlier statements – or maybe even things that he genuinely believes?
Once again, he seems like his heart isn’t entirely in this thing, and he can’t bring himself to mount a campaign based on who he is – a man with a Mexican-born wife, and three kids of Mexican descent, who genuinely doesn’t fear and loathe immigrants – when who he is turns out to be so tremendously out of sync with the GOP base.
With Walker out of the race, the big question became who will the “moderate” GOP establishment coalesce around. Bush would very much like it to be him, not Sen. Marco Rubio or Gov. John Kasich. Yet he can’t seem to maintain a full-throated defense of moderate pro-business Republicanism, which supports comprehensive immigration reform for economic reasons and also because its leaders know the party must appeal to non-white voters, or die.
No, he’s not Ben Carson warning that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to be president, or Trump calling undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” or “criminals.” Bush doesn’t believe those things. Yet he can’t bring himself to truly advocate for what he does believe. So he cheats, and foments right-wing paranoia about “multiculturalism.”
The Trump puppets at Breitbart mock him anyway – Jeb Bush Gets Trumped, Now Claims to Back English and Common Culture,” its headline Tuesday read. And the rest of us remain confused: What does Jeb Bush really believe, and why does he want to be president?