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December 1, 2000
A Bush Family Slip-Up

The Bush family’s extraordinary grab for power has sought to conceal the hand of one key figure in particular: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The official story is that Jeb Bush has recused himself from Florida’s electoral dispute, the remarkable three-week battle that the Bush family hopes will lead to its political restoration in the White House.

Since the Nov. 7 election, Jeb Bush has slid into the background for an obvious reason. Amid disclosures of widespread voting irregularities in Florida, Jeb’s public role aiding his brother’s election might strike millions of Americans as nepotism.

Jeb’s public involvement also might fuel speculation that there was some method to the apparent madness of Florida’s electoral screw-ups.

After all, the nation has not exactly embraced the notion of a Bush Restoration. Texas Gov. George W. Bush is on his way to the White House as the first popular-vote loser in more than a century. He also is en route with a dubious claim to Florida’s crucial 25 electoral votes.

Vice President Al Gore appears to have been the choice of Florida’s voters who went to the polls on Election Day, though tens of thousands of their votes were not counted for a variety of reasons.

Since then, the Bush forces have relied on a grab bag of strategies to block a hand recount of votes and protect W.’s 537-vote lead – even dispatching paid hooligans to South Florida before Thanksgiving. 

By openly rigging the outcome in Florida, Jeb might make Americans feel a little too much like helpless peasants watching, heads bowed, as the Bush family’s royal carriage speeds by to the coronation.

So, the official line has been that Jeb Bush has taken himself out of the picture and is letting the creaky electoral process of Florida work itself through. We are told that the Bushes so assiduously respect the democratic process that Jeb has chosen to step aside rather than create even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Sure, Jeb’s cronies – Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the Republican leadership of the state legislature – are working hard to ensure that a final vote count doesn’t show Al Gore to be Florida’s real winner.

But the story for public consumption is that Jeb has kept his distance and only reluctantly might sign a law overturning a Gore victory.

That, however, is not the view of one well-informed character in this tale, the patriarch of the political dynasty, former President George H.W. Bush.

During an interview on NBC’s Today show on Nov. 29, the ex-president gave the viewers a glimpse of the reality behind the curtain.

The elder George Bush was saying that he was not personally engaged in this battle for the White House. Contrary to the widespread impression that he was pulling the strings, the ex-president insisted that his two sons – W. and Jeb – were the ones handling matters.

"I'm trying to stay out of politics," the former president said. "Stay off the stage, leave this to George and his very capable team. Leave it to Jeb [and] his equally capable team."

The admission that Jeb and his "capable team" were taking care of the family's political business in Florida clashed with the official story of Jeb as uninvolved – and the ex-president quickly caught himself.

Barely missing a beat, the onetime CIA director added an unconvincing addendum: "Although Jeb has said to recuse himself from deliberations."

Indeed, "Jeb has said to recuse himself from deliberations." But it sure didn't sound like the cagey old man was taking those public assurances very seriously.

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