Judge a little more, blush a little more, and all of society’s ills will be cured.
So posited now-presidential hopeful Jeb Bush in a book published shortly after his unsuccessful first run for Florida governor in 1994.
“Profiles in Character” (which Bush co-authored with Brian Yablonski) is part compilation of platitudes about community, religiosity and integrity; part series of inspirational biographies (the “profiles” of the title); and part diatribe about bloated government. The juiciest and weirdest bits, though, are in a subchapter about the need to revive “shame.”
“Society needs to relearn the art of public and private disapproval and how to make those who engage in undesirable behavior feel some sense of shame,” Bush writes.
The book argues that the diminishment of dishonor has contributed to all sorts of depravity. If only we as a populace were a bit more judgmental, the poor would stop being so poor, the promiscuous would learn restraint, deadbeats would pay their bills, criminals would keep to the straight and narrow, school shooters would lay down their arms and bastard children would finally start getting “legitimize[d]” (their term, not mine) through marriage.
To contrast today’s shamefully shameless culture with the past, the book waxes wistful about ye olden times: “There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out-of-wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful. Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.”
His priceless Andover education notwithstanding, Bush may be a little confused about one of the great American literary classics. Hawthorne’s unforgiving, shame-wielding Puritan Salemites were not exactly portrayed as worthy of imitation.
But no matter; scarlet A’s for all sluts, please. In fact, after Bush won the governorship, Florida’s legislature passed a measure nicknamed the “Scarlet Letter” law because it required single women to publish information on their past sexual partners in a newspaper before they could put children up for adoption. The law was repealed after being struck down as unconstitutional.
Bush also pines for the days of “pillories and public dunkings,” and regrets that “much of today’s criminal justice system seems to be lacking in humiliation.” He endorses one idea, proposed by a Miami Herald columnist, that juvenile offenders should be shamed by dressing them “in frilly pink jumpsuits and making them sweep the streets of their own neighborhoods.” This sounds a lot like the infamous pink underwear inmates wear in Arizona’s Maricopa County, but apparently even that would be insufficiently emasculating.
Perhaps most astonishingly, Bush advocates using corporal punishment in public schools, because he says the humiliation involved (rather than the physical pain) is so effective.
Kids These Days “do not care if the teacher yells at them or if their test results are less than stellar,” Bush writes. In most districts, teachers have few available tools to adequately humiliate delinquents — but in some lucky districts, such as Florida’s Walton County, educators were still able to practice corporal punishment. (This was true when the book was copyrighted, in 1995; last year, the county school board voted to ban paddling.) “Profiles in Character” quotes an anonymous student who declares, “We feel ashamed when it happens to us, but when you’re in that classroom and you want to learn and somebody else won’t let you learn, well, they are dealt with.”
Bush then implies that spankings are the key to preventing more egregious forms of school violence: “To date, Walton County has never experienced a shooting at any of its schools.”
Yes, and I have an amulet that keeps away tigers.
Bush has some other strange and/or relatively retrograde things in the text, including some histrionics about the rise of no-fault divorce (as well as “no-fault psychotherapy”) and fierce objections to the fact that a criminal defendant’s childhood and life circumstances are ever taken into consideration before passing judgment.
The book was written 20 years ago, around the time that Hillary Clinton wrote an entire book about her pets (fun fact: rejected names for Clinton’s dog Buddy include “Arkanpaws” and “Clin Tin Tin”). So it’s hard to know which, if any, of these specific policies he still favors. (His spokesperson did not respond to questions about Bush’s current views on shame and corporal punishment, saying only that people should look to his record as governor.)
But even if Bush no longer directly embraces, say, corporal punishment, his underlying philosophy is clear, and it’s consistent with attitudes we’ve seen among conservatives now in power in places such as Kansas and Wisconsin: that the main reason people are broke, unmarried, in prison or unemployed is because it’s all just too much gosh-darn fun.