After months and months of uninterrupted failure, Jeb Bush has finally accomplished a feat that many had determined was impossible: He came off as relatable. It was a brief moment that, as we shall see, was fraught with universe-ending peril, but for Jeb it stands out as a defining moment of his disappointing and underwhelming presidential campaign. It happened as Jeb sat for an interview with two reporters from the Huffington Post. Playing off his exciting new campaign persona as “the politician who uses email to communicate with normal people,” his interviewers asked him to pick out the craziest email he’s received recently. As Jeb sifts through what have to be just piles and piles of Internet filth polluting his inbox (“You gotta figure out which ones aren’t X-rated, that’s the problem”) he lands on the winner.
“Baby Hitler,” Jeb announces.
You may remember the “Baby Hitler” craze from a couple of weeks ago, which was sparked by a New York Times Magazine poll asking readers if they would travel back in time to murder the dictator of fascist Germany while he was still an infant. Reactions to the Times article took over the Internet for few hours as the world debated the morality of the retroactively justified killing of a child. But for Jeb there was no question: He’d murder baby Hitler so hard. “Hell yeah I would!” Jeb said enthusiastically. “I’d do it. I mean: Hitler.”
Yes, Jeb! Yes. This is what people want. Decisiveness, action, clear statements of purpose, dead Hitler – all crowd-pleasers. Unfortunately, this winning moment for Jeb’s campaign brings with it a host of moral, philosophical and practical difficulties that ultimately undermine its political effectiveness and make clear just how unsuitable Jeb Bush is for the task of killing baby Hitler.
Let’s start with the broader moral problem: Would killing baby Hitler actually make things better? The simplistic thinking behind this thought exercise is that no Hitler means no World War II and no Holocaust. But we can’t know for sure that removing Hitler will halt the rise of the Nazis – it very well may result in a Nazi Party that is just as militaristic and ferociously anti-Semitic, but led by someone who isn’t as catastrophically ambitious and megalomaniacal as Hitler was. What if, under this new scenario, the Third Reich decided against invading the Soviet Union and instead duked it out with the Western allies? You’d be talking about a longer, more evenly matched conflict that would have played right into the hands of Joseph Stalin, who had long hoped for a protracted war between the fascist and capitalist states that would weaken both and leave them vulnerable to Soviet invasion. There are an infinite number of alternate timelines to consider.
But let’s say we decide to go ahead with it anyway and baby Hitler is marked for death by the U.S. government. That brings us to the question of whether Jeb Bush, his enthusiasm notwithstanding, should be the one to take on this complex task. What it boils down to, ultimately, is trust. Can we rely on Jeb to murder baby Hitler? I think the answer is no.
First of all, Jeb was already offered the chance to figuratively travel back in time and kill something in its infancy: the Iraq War. He proved to be a dithering, uncertain assassin, offering four different answers when asked what he would do if given the chance to alter recent history. That doesn’t bode well for the Hitler question. “But that’s not fair,” you might shoot back, “it was his brother’s war, after all, and he had to take family into account. This is Hitler we're talking about. Hitler!” Well, that brings us right to the second strike against Jeb: his family.
The Bush family did very well in the post-World War II environment. Jeb’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, launched the family’s political dynasty by winning election to the Senate in 1952 after campaigning with his friend and political ally Dwight Eisenhower, whose own political career was made possible by his successful prosecution of the war against Adolf Hitler. Jeb owes his political career to his family’s long-established political presence. Killing baby Hitler throws the existence of the Bush dynasty into question. Of course, it might very well be the case that murdering Hitler in his bassinet may result in an even more effective and popular Bush political machine, but is Jeb really willing to risk the alternative? More important, can we be sure that Jeb is willing to risk that?
And, of course, there are practical considerations that have to be taken into account. If we are going to send someone back in time to 1889 Austria to murder a dictator in his infancy, Jeb Bush is not that person. Sure he’s trimmed down thanks to a religious adherence to the silly fad diet he’s on, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a 62-year-old man with no military training, a family history of heart disease, and knee problems – hardly an ideal candidate for an assassination mission, even if the target is a baby. And while Jeb is multilingual, which is impressive in its own right, neither English nor Mexican Spanish are likely to serve him well in 19th-century Branau Am Inn. Had Jeb been, say, a CIA operative in his previous life, or Batman, then maybe an exception could be made, but as it stands there’s no plausible justification for sending a non-German-speaking man who’s within spitting distance of Medicare eligibility on this mission. If, for some reason, it turns out that we must send an aging Republican politician back through time to assassinate someone in Austria, really there’s only one choice.