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Carl Hiaasen
Another Bush for president? Not likely
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On the same day a national poll showed George W. Bush's popularity skidding to a new low, he told reporters in Florida that he'd like to see his brother Jeb make a run for the presidency.

At which Jeb must have inwardly winced, thinking: Gee, thanks, bro.

That's like being asked to steer the Titanic after it hits the iceberg.

Gov. Bush has repeatedly said he won't run for president in 2008, and there's little reason to doubt his word. Regardless of how one views his politics (and I often disagree with him), he's undeniably a bright fellow.

Not that you need to be a genius to figure out that voters won't be sending another Bush to the White House anytime soon.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll puts the president's job approval rating at a feeble 31 percent. That ties his father's rock-bottom number in July 1992, four months before he lost the election to Bill Clinton.

Only two other presidents in the last 50 years racked up lower popularity scores: Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Discontent is widespread and bipartisan. Seventy percent of those surveyed last week said the country was headed in the wrong direction, reflecting the worst epidemic of national pessimism in more than two decades.

According to the poll, Americans are deeply disgruntled about the debacle in Iraq, high gas prices, immigration issues and the economy. About two-thirds of the respondents said the country was in lousier shape today then it was when Bush took office six years ago.

Jeb would have to be certifiably nuts or totally stoned to consider running for president in two years. Even if his day should come, it's not clear that he wants the job.

There's an element of epic irony in his fate, because establishment Republicans had assumed that he - not George W. - would be the first Bush heir to reach the White House.

It might become one of the great what-ifs of modern political history.

What if Bobby Kennedy had lived to be elected? What if the Watergate burglars hadn't been caught?

And what if Jeb and not W. had run for president?

Management style

Surely today's headlines would be different. It's inconceivable that as president Jeb would have pushed for an invasion of Iraq. He's far too pragmatic and cautious - plus, he actually reads.

I believe he would have made it his business to know that the reports of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were both flimsy and hotly disputed within the U.S. intelligence community.

In any event, he would have been sensible enough to question why we should attack a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and no al Qaeda connections whatsoever.

As governor, Jeb has displayed a demeanor and management style that contrasts markedly with that of his detached and delegating brother.

Jeb's known as a detail freak and workaholic. His manner isn't down-home, nor is he a folksy dispenser of nicknames. He can be blunt, cold and difficult to dazzle.

Running the ship

That's not to say there wouldn't be some boneheads working at a Jebster White House. The governor has recruited some real low-voltage hacks to Tallahassee (like Jerry Regier, the conniving troll who was sent to streamline the Division of Children & Families and promptly began piecing out hefty contracts to his pals).

Still, there's no Dick Cheney-like figure whispering instructions from the shadows. For better or worse, Jeb's the only one running the ship. In times of crisis he gives a strong impression of being engaged and focused, which isn't always true of his brother.

Look at the administration's doddering reaction to Hurricane Katrina. It's impossible to imagine that, given his experiences in Florida, Jeb wouldn't have known in advance what would happen to those levees in New Orleans - or at least listened to someone who did.

A willingness to hear experts is one of the many differences between the Bush siblings. Naturally, there are similarities, too.

Like George W., Jeb had no qualms about exploiting the tragic situation of Terri Schiavo to score brownie points with the far right. The governor fought to keep a feeding tube connected to the gravely brain-damaged woman, despite numerous court rulings and reams of medical evidence that she was in a permanent vegetative state.

The Schiavo case backfired on the Bushes and other top Republicans, who'd badly misjudged the public's tolerance for politicians meddling in private family matters. That was the nadir of Jeb's tenure, yet his standing among Floridians remains solid: Sixty-three percent of those surveyed in March gave him a positive job-approval rating.

In another time and circumstance, poll numbers like that would be a pass to a national ticket. Not today, not when the president is hobbling along at 31 percent.

You can't blame W. for nudging Jeb toward the Oval Office, but the timing couldn't be worse. When the governor's term ends in January, he'll likely return to Miami, make a bundle in business and wait until 2012 to see whether the coast is clear.

If he still chooses not to run, as he might, lots of people will be looking back at the paths of both brothers and wondering:

What if ...

Carl Hiaasen can be contacted by e-mail at HeraldEd@aol.com.
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