Charting a Course for the GOP

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush outlines his vision for the “entrepreneurial party.”

Jeb Bush stands and speaks to students
May 08, 2010

By Menachem Wecker

A proud Republican, student Dylan Pyne fully anticipated enjoying the Oct. 21 GW event with Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and brother of former President George W. Bush. But he found his expectation that it would be a generic discussion about Mr. Bush’s gubernatorial experiences way off base.

“I was pleasantly surprised to hear him speak about tangible ideas for the future and what he wants to see for the Republican party,” Mr. Pyne says. “I was also pleased that such a prominent politician was talking about tangible reform for education, which isn’t necessarily as sexy as the economy or heath care but desperately needs attention.”

Speaking to about 200 people at the Jack Morton Auditorium, Mr. Bush offered a six-step plan for Republicans to reinvent themselves. The GOP must become the “limited government party,” must be unabashedly entrepreneurial and must support limited government without being anti-government, he said. It must also become the “21st-century reform party,” embrace “American exceptionalism” and be a national party for everyone, not just “old white guys.”

Mr. Bush also focused heavily on education. “You all are blessed to go to a fantastic university, and it gives you a chance to be incredibly successful in life,” he told the audience. “But let me give you some statistics.”

The statistics Mr. Bush cited came from the period between 1964 and 2006, when people who held graduate degrees increased their income by 80 percent, while earnings for bachelor’s degree holders increased by 60 percent. Those with high school diplomas or less saw no change in real income. By Mr. Bush’s count, only 75 percent of students graduate high school, and only about 60 to 70 percent of those graduates attend college. Only 60 percent of college students graduate with a four-year degree over six years, which led Mr. Bush to suggest that bachelor’s degrees be called six-year degrees.

“The fact is this is a system that is not yielding the kind of result that we need,” he said.

According to Mr. Bush, print textbooks might be outdated in the digital age now that content can be hosted online, and primary schools should rethink their summer vacations, historically created to allow students to help their parents harvest farm produce. All the best teachers also oppose modeling their curricula on preparing for standardized tests, he said.

Though he addressed many serious topics, Mr. Bush also brought a lighter touch to his talk. A student asked if he was aware that radio host Michael Savage had been banned from entering the UK, and if he would intervene. “No! What the hell did he do? Can you repeat it?” Mr. Bush asked. On the Obama administration cracking down on FOX News, Mr. Bush noted that Glenn Beck, “who is a pretty high intensity dude to begin with,” is probably “in heaven.” And he joked that he earned the nickname “Veto Corleone” in Florida for vetoing 2,558 separate line items.

Mr. Bush began his talk saying that he had heard that GW has the largest college Republican chapter in the country, but he thought that statistic might be like the sort he encountered in Texas, “where it is in our DNA to mildly exaggerate what we do.” Given the assembled crowd, and the College Republicans’ efforts to volunteer at current races in New Jersey and Virginia, Mr. Bush said it was not surprising that the nation’s capital would have the most vibrant College Republican club.

Students appreciated his remarks and the significance of his visit to campus. “Former Governor Jeb Bush is one of the leading conservative reformers in the country,” says Andrew Clark, communications director for GW College Republicans, which hosted the event. “He and his record of reform will play a strong role in the coming decade as conservatives seek to reestablish their credentials in politics, and any political GW student should be excited to hear him speak.”

Mr. Pyne was not only excited, he was inspired. “If Jeb Bush ever runs for president, he will definitely look toward The George Washington University student body for support,” he says.

Student Life