It has been only eight days since former Florida Governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush lost his mother, Barbara Bush, and only five days since her funeral occurred. This led many to believe that Bush would cancel his visit to the University to deliver the 97th Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture. But his mother would never have allowed that, he said. “My mother would have kicked my butt if I didn’t show up,” Bush said.
Students and community members filled Salomon Center to watch Bush share his experiences and perspective on a myriad of political issues that the United States faces today.
After an introduction from President Christina Paxson P’19, Bush took the podium and immediately launched into his speech. He started by asserting that “the most powerful thing we can do as a nation, to project American values around the world … is for every American to have the chance to rise up.” Bush believes that the major economic issue in the United States is not inequality, but rather lack of socioeconomic mobility. Quoting Former President James Garfield, he argued classes in America should not be immobile and stratified like rock, but instead free to move around like water in the ocean.
However, “we’re becoming more like the rocks rather than the ocean” as elements of U.S. society that once promoted this vision are eroding, Bush said.
The former governor then transitioned to a discussion of two issues he said need reform — immigration and education.
To start, Bush asserted the need for the United States “to protect its border — plain and simple.” But building a wall and forcing Mexico to pay “ain’t gonna cut it” as a means of border security implementation, he added. Documented immigrants are an important part of the Unites States’ population, he said. Though documented immigrants comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, they hold one-third of the country’s patents. The United States should expand the number of immigrants who can offer immediate or long-term economic contributions, he said.
Bush does not believe that the United States could or should deport all undocumented immigrants. “There is no possible way that we’re going to deport 11 million people,” he said, adding that the cost of doing so as well as the concurrent disruption of family life are “un-American.”
The former governor then discussed what the United States should do to reform its educational system. As it exists now, the system is antiquated and ineffectual, with many students not meeting standards across the nation, he said. To combat this, there needs to be a focus on improving early childhood literacy and promoting fully-intact family structures, he said. All children should be able to read by the fourth grade to prepare them to continue onto more complicated subjects. At the same time, there need to be policies in place that incentivize parents to prioritize a strong family structure, he said.
The United States needs to implement a bottom-up, “dynamic” approach that accommodates all students and allows them to realize their “God-given potential,” Bush said. Florida saw a drastic increase in school quality when it started “grading” the schools and financially rewarding improvement.
“I think that (Bush) made a lot of solid points about education and immigration,” said Oscar Newman ’21, who attended the lecture.
Turning to national politics, Bush asserted that there is a “toxic political environment that exists in our country,” and citizens must change that. “Politics is a mirror image of us” and is deeply embedded in American culture, he said. Voters need to penalize, rather than support, vulgar behaviors that lead to toxic discourse — a sentiment that was met with vehement audience applause.
“You’re not the big dog if you disparage the disabled or call someone a Nazi. Throwing this language out only divides us,” he said. “We need to stand up for decency and honor.”
People need to “resist fake news” and try to consume not only agreeable opinions, Bush said. For example, while he reads the Wall Street Journal Editorial page, which falls more in line with his own views, he also “forces himself” to read the New York Times.
“I hope you rise up and stand on principles that decency and honor (are) not a sign of weakness. (They’re) a sign of American strength,” he said, finishing his speech and moving into a question and answer section with Paxson.
One of Paxson’s questions concerned Bush’s opinions on DACA. “This is like Groundhog’s Day,” he said. He supports allowing the Dreamers to stay, as most politicians do, he said. The legislation has not passed because President Donald Trump’s proposal has not fixed the problem, and politicians have caveats that prevent them from passing any bills, Bush added. He noted that he may not be the best person to speak to about that, since he lives in Miami — a majority immigrant city — and that his wife is an immigrant. “I sleep with one,” he said. “I’m probably not the right guy to ask.”
Bush was also asked about his views on gay marriage. As a Catholic, he said he believes that traditional marriage is important, but that there is not a contradiction with allowing same-sex marriages. Common ground between the two viewpoints can be found, he said.
The lecture then moved into an audience question and answer section. One student asked whether or not Bush believed Trump was qualified to be president. Bush said that he believes Trump won “fair and square,” but that he does not approve of some of Trump’s behavior.
Another student asked if Bush believed there is a danger of same-sex marriage infringing on religion, but Bush said that he does not believe this is a problem, and that there should be equal protection for both sides.
When asked about his views on gun control in the wake of the Parkland shooting, Bush said he supports some measures of gun control. He added that the adults around the shooter knew of his behavioral trouble, and that the system should have intervened but ultimately failed the people involved. More connection inside communities can help prevent events like these in the future, he added.
Reflecting on the event, Henry Drewes ’21 praised the inclusion of conservative voices on campus. “Generally, we aren’t hearing from conservative voices. … It’s kind of humanizing to the conservative viewpoints to hear it from them and their perspective.”