Road Show

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Like Perot, Jeb Bush is the businessman who portrays his lack of political experience (he tends to play down his brief stint as commerce secretary under Gov. Bob Martinez) as a virtue rather than a hindrance. He talks forcefully about starting a business with his friend Armando Codina, the Codina Bush Group, and building it from three employees to more than 160. He tells his audiences that it is time for government to be run as if it were a business in which the customer -- the taxpayer -- is always right. And like Clinton, the younger Bush has positioned himself along generational lines, striking home the theme that it is time for a change.

"I'm a 41-year-old man who has been relatively successful in business, who has been married to the same precious, beautiful woman for twenty years," he declares in speech after speech. "And we came to Miami to pursue our dreams. We have three children, George, who is eighteen; Noel, who is sixteen; and Jeb, who is ten years old. I look into the future through my children's eyes, not through my own eyes any more, and what I see scares me and it angers me A that my generation, our generation, may be the first generation to leave less opportunity for our loved ones than was given to us. You see George and Barbara Bush, they did their part. Their generation passed the baton off to this one, and we've had an abundance of opportunity.

"But look into the future through your children's eyes and can we honestly say today that, with the system of government we have, our future will be brighter for our children than it was for us? I don't think so. We are the most violent state of all the 50 states, with a welfare system creating the wrong incentives for the wrong people that we've doubled the welfare roles in this state in the last five years. We've created in the last decade a permanent underclass. I don't think our children can have a brighter future with an education system so mired in politics, so mired in social engineering and bureaucracy, that all we get is a mediocre result. And I know as I look into the future through my children's eyes that it will be near impossible for our kids to have more opportunity unless we return to the fundamental basic values that keep a society intact. Values such as work. Values such as strong families."

As Bush answers questions from the luncheon crowd, I notice that Lehigh's Miss Patriotic -- a young woman who would seem to epitomize Bush's vision of the future and who also happened to get a more boisterous round of applause than the candidate when she walked into the luncheon -- is no longer in the room. I rush outside and see her, off in the distance, walking with her father. Breaking into a slow trot across the parking lot of the Admiral Lehigh Golf and Country Club, I sing out, "Yoo-whooooo, Miss Patriotic!" and begin to chuckle as I realize that this is the essence of Republican politics, the apple-pie, God-bless-America, live-free-or-die, country-club circuit I'm on for five more days, where candidates are likely to be upstaged by hometown favorites like Miss Patriotic, and as likely to brag about which professional golfers are supporting them as they are about which newspapers have endorsed them. ("You know, Greg Norman contributed to my campaign," Bush later beams.) Republicans!

Miss Patriotic is sixteen-year-old Emily Heller, and hearing my calls, she turns and waits for my approach. I have two main questions: How does one become Miss Patriotic? She says she won the Stars and Stripes pageant on the Fourth of July. "I wore something red, white, and blue," she explains. "And I spoke about the freedom and opportunity that every American enjoys." And what does she think of Jeb Bush? "I really like what he has to say about family values," she replies, though she withholds a formal endorsement. And with that her father pulls alongside in the family car and she hops in. "So long," she says, waving and smiling, not so much to me but to everyone and everything in her path.

If only Miss Patriotic could meet Venessa Boren and instill in her a little cheer. Bush and I met ten-year-old Venessa later that afternoon at a meeting of the Lee County Young Republicans. Only about a dozen people had shown up at the University of South Florida campus to hear Bush, who nonetheless gave them the complete speech, and followed with questions and answers. It was at this point that young Venessa, accompanied by her father, raised her hand. When Bush called on her, she began a long, thoughtful question about the growing problems caused by illegal immigrants, especially the staggering health care costs associated with them.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede