Jeb Bush: Time to challenge 'bad behavior' in politics

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks about our polarized political climate during an appearance at an Elmhurst College forum. "The first step is to change the language around political discourse and get back to something that (if) you're at your own kitchen table you could tolerate," he said.

      Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks about our polarized political climate during an appearance at an Elmhurst College forum. "The first step is to change the language around political discourse and get back to something that (if) you're at your own kitchen table you could tolerate," he said. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • "Sometimes bad behavior is just bad behavior," Jeb Bush told a crowd of more than 1,000 in Oak Brook.

      "Sometimes bad behavior is just bad behavior," Jeb Bush told a crowd of more than 1,000 in Oak Brook. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted4/19/2018 12:11 PM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush opined on a number of issues -- immigration, education, even Illinois' roughly 7,000 units of local government -- during an Elmhurst College forum this week.

But he felt the "looming presence" of his mother and former first lady Barbara Bush as he gave his take on a polarized political climate.

 

In the wide-ranging speech to a friendly crowd at an Oak Brook hotel, the 2016 GOP presidential candidate denounced an ugly, vulgar side of politics that would have drawn his mother's ire.

"The first step is to change the language around political discourse and get back to something that (if) you're at your own kitchen table you could tolerate. (At) least in my kitchen table, I could promise you if I talked like the people I hear on public television today talk, my mother would have gotten her board out and whipped my butt, which she did occasionally," Bush said with a smile.

The college asked Bush to discuss "leadership in a changing world" for the school's 11th annual Governmental Forum. He gave the speech on the day after his mother died at 92, saying "she would be very upset" if he stayed at home and reneged on his commitment.

He told his audience of about 1,000 -- many of them elected officials and business leaders in DuPage County -- to treat politics not as "some kind of foreign ecosystem," but as a reflection of the broader culture.

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"We kind of isolate it intellectually as though its something different and separate from who we are," Bush said. "Well, here's the dirty secret: Politics is embedded in our culture, and we are our culture. The interaction of all of us together defines our culture, and our culture is more vulgar than it once was. Our culture allows people to act in ways that 30 years ago would never have been allowed in our political environment."

He referenced President Donald Trump by name occasionally during the speech and a Q&A, citing his former rival's brash campaign style.

"At least for about six months, I was his guy," he said. "He got a kick out of going after me."

Bush offered his own prescription for challenging a "poisonous" political environment that he said is "disproportionately located in ZIP codes around Washington, D.C."

"First, voters should penalize rather than reward politicians irrespective of their party that use racist language or call people Nazis or disparage the disabled or make fun of people in order to push someone down to make themselves look better," he said to loud applause. "That should be a penalty."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Public figures, Bush said, should be held to a higher ethical standard, regardless of party allegiance.

"Bad behavior and the kind of language that we accept today, or the kind of actions that we find intolerable for someone we don't agree with, should have the exact same response to someone that's on your team," he said.

" ... Right now, we're so hyperpartisan that if it's a Democrat doing something outrageous, Republicans are just righteously there to attack, but if it's a Republican, you hear nothing and vice versa.

"To challenge this notion, sometimes bad behavior is just bad behavior."

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