As traveling acts go, the Bush family does not rise to the level of the Marx Brothers or even the Osmond family.
Until recently, the Bush clan has rarely been called upon to go before the great unwashed — that’s you and me — and speak to us.
An author who wrote about them has called them “the most successful political dynasty in American history.” I am withholding judgment on that, however, until I see whether the family can drag Jeb Bush across the finish line for the Republican presidential nomination.
So far, things look bleak. There is a new poll out in South Carolina that was conducted after the recent debate there that was so raucous it featured everything but pie throwing. In the poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, Bush tied with Ben Carson for last place, with 7 percent of the vote.
OPINION Follow @politicoroger
Consider that for a moment: Jeb, after spending millions and driving himself hard, supported by a famous family, is tied with a guy who is only moderately conscious.
Two debates ago, Carson was baffled when he was asked to walk down a hallway to get onto the debate stage. Even with a producer desperately motioning for him to move, Carson remained frozen in place.
After 1 minute and 18 seconds — a lifetime in television — Carson was finally persuaded to debate on the stage rather than remain in the hallway for the next two hours or so.
And this is the guy with whom Bush is tied, while Donald Trump sits in first place with 35 percent of the vote, five times what Bush and Carson have.
But why? We can easily answer that question in terms of Carson: He not only would be unable to answer the proverbial “3 a.m. phone call” to protect America; it is an open question whether he could answer the noon alarm clock to get out of bed.
Where is Jeb lacking, however?
At a forum last December, Jeb said the next president should be a “person with a heart, a person with a brain and a person with a backbone.”
Excuse me, but isn’t that the script for “The Wizard of Oz”? Add flying monkeys and you have all the good parts.
With the political demise of Jeb possibly imminent, the Bush family decided to send out its big guns: George W. Bush, Laura Bush and even Jeb’s mother, Barbara Bush. (George H.W. Bush does not appear well enough to travel much.)
At a recent rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, George W. used a couple of laugh lines to build a warm and fuzzy image for himself, which, as the chief architect of the Iraq War, he has been lacking.
“I’ve written two books, which has surprised a lot of people, particularly up East, who didn’t think I could read, much less write,” he said. “I’ve been one to defy expectations. I’ve been ‘misunderestimated’ most of my life.”
He got the desired laughs, but then he got onto dangerous ground: the truth.
“There seems to be a lot of name-calling going on,” the former president said seriously, “but I want to remind you what our good dad told me one time — labels are for soup cans.”
Really? Did George H.W. Bush really tell his eldest son not to name-call and label people?
Then what was George H.W. doing when he unleashed the ugly forces of racism in this country by hanging the “Willie Horton” label around the neck of his opponent, Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 election race?
“By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate,” Lee Atwater, Bush’s campaign manager, bragged about that label.
The son cannot be blamed for the sins of the father, of course. But what about George W. himself? He had lost his first presidential race by more than 500,000 popular votes and became president only because of a one-vote margin in the Supreme Court.
That was his first presidential race. What could be used to win his second? How about a smear campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? It ran such shameful ads against John F. Kerry that its label has entered history: According to my crack research staff (Wikipedia), swiftboating “has come into common use to refer to a harsh attack by a political opponent that is dishonest, personal, and unfair.”
Labels are for soup cans? No, they’re for bare-knuckle politics, the kind that the Bush family has used to win presidencies.
Look at the current success of Donald Trump: His outrageous, never-ending attacks have become a form of popular entertainment, a form that, oddly enough, mollifies us.
“We are not permitted to know who is best at being President,” Neil Postman, a media theorist, wrote way back in 1985, “but whose image is best in touching and soothing the deep reaches of our discontent.”
We are a people looking for a president to soothe our discontent.
Jeb doesn’t need a heart, a brain or a backbone. He needs a campaign of unremitting savagery.
Only then can he prove himself presidential.
Follow Roger Simon on Twitter: Follow @politicoroger