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"After the '94 campaign, I tried to appraise what happened," Bush muses. "It was hurtful. I felt bad that people felt the way they did about me. It broke my heart to see those things, because that is not who I am. At first I thought this wasn't fair, and then I reflected on it and realized I screwed up. If I had let people know who I was, it would have been different. If I had let people know who I was, I would have won."
Today his strategy is to downplay those ideas many blacks may find unpalatable and to stress instead his confidence they can trust him because he is a good person.
"I think he understands it's better to focus on what people have in common rather than what separates them," says Cory Tilley, Bush's press secretary during both campaigns. "I don't think it is a new Jeb. I don't think he is being disingenuous. I just think he has done a better job of defining himself."
Democrats, of course, assisted his efforts to appeal to black voters in January by unceremoniously ousting Opa-locka's Rep. Willie Logan as the party's House speaker-designate. But long before the Logan debacle, Bush had begun courting black voters. "I could have hung out with Republicans who still seemed to appreciate me," he remarks, "and not done a lot of heavy lifting." Instead, he says, he sought to reach beyond what he describes as his "comfort zone."
"It takes more than giving a speech in a black church or visiting a condominium to break down long-term barriers," says Feeney. "It takes repeated, concentrated efforts to show people who you are, to get them comfortable with you as a person, to confess that you don't agree with everything they do. That's not something you can accomplish with a visit or two. You can't do that in a six-week period."
After Bush lost in 1994, he set up a nonprofit think tank called the Foundation for Florida's Future. Democrats have denigrated the foundation as a tool used by Bush to keep his campaign network alive. Indeed several people from Bush's 1994 campaign, including Sally Bradshaw, went to work for the foundation. Feeney doesn't disagree that Bush probably realized he could use the foundation as a way to reach out to voters with whom he had little success in 1994.
"One of the first things the Foundation for Florida's Future did was take a poll in the African-American community and ask questions about crime and social policy and welfare reform, and it determined that there are a lot of areas where we agree, and what we lack is the ability or the willingness to sell our agenda in a credible way," Feeney says. "We are just not believed in the African-American community when we say, 'We have your best interests at heart when we do welfare reform.' It is a matter of trust."
In order to build credibility within the black community, the foundation, along with the Urban League of Greater Miami, opened a publicly financed, privately operated "charter school" three years ago in Liberty City.
Feeney likens Bush's journey to the teachings of Plato, in which the ancient Greek philosopher proposed how to make an effective argument. "There are logos, pathos, and ethos," Feeney explains. "Logos is the logic of your argument. As Republicans we always had that. Pathos is the sympathy and the emotion of your argument, and really the liberals have always been able to portray themselves as more sympathetic. But the final part of any great speech is the ethos, the ethics of the speaker and the integrity of the speaker. Well, that is what Jeb has been working on, the ethos and the pathos. Those are things that take a long time to do.
"I don't think Jeb Bush's belief system has changed fundamentally," Feeney says. "I do believe he is able to articulate his beliefs in a way that is less threatening and that emphasizes the opportunity and the positive sides of things as opposed to the negative or the harsh side."
Press secretary Tilley says Bush is earnest in his efforts to listen to differing views on issues. "I think he has learned some things from people he didn't spend much time with in the past, and I think that started with the Liberty City charter school," Tilley says. "For about a year that was his number-one thing in terms of time. I think it really opened his eyes to some of the problems inner cities have. Everybody knew the inner cities were decaying, but being there firsthand working on the charter school really gave him the ability to see things a little differently."
"It did raise my consciousness," Bush acknowledges. "We are moving toward two Floridas. I've believed that for a while but now I've seen it, and it is a greater motivation for me in the political realm -- the fact that children grow up in neighborhoods that are so unsafe and in such conditions that it is just haunting. It is haunting to me, at least."