The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jeb Bush condemns ‘political correctness’ of #BlackLivesMatter protesters

After an event in Gorham, N.H. today, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush rolled his eyes at the mention of protesters who heckled the phrase "black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter" at a progressive conference.

After uttering the phrase, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley made a series of quick apologies to attendees of Netroots Nation. Progressives at the conference, which took place over five days in Phoenix, praised O'Malley for the walkback. People unfamiliar with the phrase have since characterized that an inscrutable pander. When Yahoo! News reporter Jon Ward asked Bush if O'Malley should have apologized, the Republican said "no."

"We're so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying 'lives matter?'" asked Bush. "Life is precious. It's a gift from God. I frankly think that it's one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it's a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn't have apologized to a group that seemed to disagree with it. Gosh."

The trackers at American Bridge quickly uploaded a video of the exchange.

On the right, the booing of the phrase "all lives matter" has been read as proof that Democrats no longer value the lives of white people. Ben Shapiro, a writer and editor at Breitbart News, argued that the heckle proved that "whatever forwards the narrative of racial injustice against black Americans takes precedence; other lives, whether white, brown, or blue, take a back seat."

But #BlackLivesMatter protesters who occupied the Netroots presidential forum explained, from the stage, that they wanted to "center" a discussion on race. To them, "white lives matter" was not objectionable because whites did not deserve to live. It was objectionable because some people (though not O'Malley) intentionally used it to diminish their cause. A popular Reddit post by a member called GeekAesthete has gone viral, seen as one of best summaries of the argument.

Imagine that you're sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don't get any. So you say "I should get my fair share." And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, "everyone should get their fair share." Now, that's a wonderful sentiment -- indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad's smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn't solve the problem that you still haven't gotten any!
The problem is that the statement "I should get my fair share" had an implicit "too" at the end: "I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else." But your dad's response treated your statement as though you meant "only I should get my fair share", which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that "everyone should get their fair share," while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

In his Florida political career, Bush sometimes stumbled over racial questions. During his unsuccessful 1994 campaign for governor, when asked what he would do for black people, Bush said "nothing." He intended that to be a comment about higher standards and economic growth benefiting everyone, but it came off as a gaffe. Then, as now, Bush felt burned by the language of "political correctness."