Tropic Magazine: Jeb Bush “Born to Run”

Read Gene’s Outlook piece, on Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I make a cameo. Needless to say, I miss Tropic Magazine — the treehouse of Miami journalism in the last two decades of the last century. We believed in good stories, good writing, the power of narrative. Also, there were booger jokes. That was Dave Barry’s department. The great Madeleine Blais won a Pulitzer for a Tropic story, and Dave then won a Pulitzer for his columns, and Michel DuCille won a Pulitzer for his photographs in Tropic on the crack epidemic (which accompanied Lynne Duke’s great story, a Pulitzer finalist as I recall). Every four weeks or so, John Dorschner would turn in another immaculately reported and written story. Dorschner is one of my journalism heroes, because whenever you would ask him, “What’s the best story you ever wrote?,” he would answer, “The next one.” So yeah, I miss those days, and miss working with Tom Shroder, Bill Rose, Phillip Brooker, Meg Laughlin and a bunch of other great journalists who were part of the Tropic crew. (And I also miss playing conference-table ping-pong.)

Onward: This morning I sent over to Chris Cillizza an item for his blog, and I’ll post that  below. But here’s what Chris did for me this week: He got the Herald to put online a story I wrote in Tropic in 1986 about Jeb Bush. It was the first political piece on Jeb, I’m pretty sure. It has an unfortunate reference to “George Bush, Jr.,” Jeb’s then-obscure older brother. Oops. My mistake, in retrospect, drives home the point of the story: In those days, Jeb was the Chosen One of his generation, the only one to jump into politics and plan a political future that might include, someday, a bid for the presidency.

Excerpt from the top of the piece:

Little Havana, a packed Cuban restaurant. The waitress has a problem. Immigration. She is not legal. She writes her phone number down on a napkin. Jeb Bush slips it into his shirt pocket. “Por Favor. Por Favor. Por Favor,” she says.

Jeb nods: “Si, si, voy a tratar.” Yes, I’ll try.

“Recuerdes,” the waitress says. Remember.

Jeb Bush is not a lawyer. He has nothing to do with immigration. He is in real estate. He leases space in buildings, to be precise. But he’s Jeb Bush. Jeb . . . Bush. When you are the son of the man who flies around in Air Force Two, son of the man who is the favorite to succeed Ronald Reagan as the next leader of the most powerful nation on Earth — when you are such a son, it is naturally assumed that you have merely to tuck a napkin in your pocket and soon a complex set of immigration questions will be taken care of.

John Ellis Bush (“JEB”) cuts an unusual profile for a Miamian. By birth, he is Texan. He prepped in New Hampshire at Andover. He has a tall, square handsomeness of the type that foreigners imagine when they think of Americans. Yet he is one of the most important people in Miami’s Hispanic community. He speaks Spanish with a Cuban accent. His wife is Mexican. He has converted to Catholicism. He is chairman of the county’s Republican Party. Under his guidance about 1,000 new Republicans each month are registering to vote, melting the once-insoluble Democratic bloc in Dade County. The national GOP leadership has leaned on Bush to run for Congress against one of the crusty old Democratic incumbents, and, though he has refused so far, he admits it’s only a matter of time.”It’s difficult sometimes to live up to the expectations of other people,” Jeb says as he downs first one Cuban coffee and then another. “They think I can call up President Reagan and solve anything. They think I live the life of Prince Charles rather than my middle-class life.”The waitress brings sherry. Jeb didn’t order it, but he drinks it anyway. The check comes. He is undercharged, wildly.He says, “I don’t want to be considered George Bush’s son. I want to be considered Jeb Bush.”

And who is that?

Who, precisely, is Jeb Bush, if not the vice president’s son?

“I’m kind of a boring, straight guy.”

Here’s my piece for The Fix.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · April 10, 2013