Medium: Shame on Jeb Bush

by DNC Research Director Lauren Dillon

Profiles in CharacterLooking for a poolside book? Some light reading for the summer? Well, Jeb Bush’s Profiles in Character isn’t it. But don’t worry — we read it so you don’t have to. 

Let’s start with Jeb Bush’s social agenda, which is literally a page from an 1850s novel. Talk about taking America backwards.  Bush cited The Scarlet Letter in describing how our society should treat single mothers. 

It’s been a while since I read The Scarlet Letter. But I don’t remember siding with the old men who shamed Hester Prynne as the paragons of virtue whose example we should be following.  Yet the idea that more and more of our neighbors deserve to be shamed is a recurring theme of Profiles in Character.

It seems that any life decision that diverges from Jeb Bush’s carefully curated life is deserving of shame. Anyone who is struggling to make the best of a d difficult situation should be ridiculed. It’s a wildly condescending view of the American people and a valuable insight into how Bush really feels about us.  

Women who give birth out of wedlock are in for a particularly large helping of shame from Jeb Bush. Their “irresponsible conduct” occurs because “their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense

of ridicule to this behavior.” Bush longs for “a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.” 

But Bush goes even beyond that, judging not just single parents, but also their children. He dooms young girls without fathers to a life he spends his book disparaging, one of promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births. He writes that for young girls, the absence of a father “can be measured by sexual activity and the rate of out of wedlock childbearing.” 

Bush is quite particular about what constitutes an acceptable family. Parents need to be married because “marriage legitimizes children.” If you haven’t walked down the aisle, you certainly shouldn’t be living together because cohabiting women are more likely to cheat.  Of course, for Jeb Bush there’s plenty more shame to go around: 

  • Recipients of Public Assistance  — Jeb Bush thinks that people are on public assistance because they’re not willing to work hard or perform jobs like shining shoes. He writes, “Another example of how we have come to devalue shame in society is in our welfare system… For many it is more shameful to work than to take public assistance — that is how backward shame has become!” 
  • Public Schools  — In Profiles in Character, Bush lumps in public education with public assistance. He concedes that it is an important area for government involvement — but only for those “truly in need.” 
  • “Inner City” Kids  — Bush suggested it was a “good idea” to dress troubled youth in “frilly pink jumpsuits and making them sweep the streets of their own neighborhoods! Would these kids be so cava lier then? It’s not just our inner city streets that are in dire need of some sense of shame.”