Carl Leubsdorf: America’s ‘legacy runoff’ candidates enter the stage


The legacy candidates, bearing the 2016 campaign’s most prominent political names, seek to make history by extending the achievements of men they hope will become their presidential predecessors.

But Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush chose vastly different ways to present formal rationales for dealing with their legacies. Clinton embraced her Democratic predecessors, while Bush stressed his family’s values, rather than its political heritage, along with his record in running Florida.

In a sense, both approaches reflected the political circumstances of their candidacies. The former secretary of state echoed her party’s increasingly populist tone and the potential of a ground-breaking female presidency, while the former Florida governor presented himself as sufficiently conservative for the GOP but more inclusive for the overall electorate.

Clinton, the heavy Democratic favorite, aligned herself with the party’s two most recent presidents, Barack Obama and her husband, Bill Clinton, and embraced its greatest president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, using a site named for him and paraphrasing one of his most famous speeches by vowing “a continuing rendezvous with destiny.”

She cited lessons from her mother to humanize herself and explain her inspiration for becoming the first woman president, an emphasis reflecting the belief her gender will provide a powerful plus in both primary and general elections.

Bush, facing a flock of Republican rivals, hailed his gubernatorial record to allay GOP activists who fear supporting legal status for illegal immigrants and “Common Core” education standards brands him as insufficiently conservative. He energetically echoed traditional Republican anti-government rhetoric, attacking “the pampered elites of Washington,” but largely avoided divisive social issues and shunned seeking repeal of Obamacare.

Using a campaign logo (Jeb!) without his last name, Bush used indirect family references and denied any sense of political entitlement as the son and brother of the past two GOP presidents, in part a reaction to the potentially negative impact of brother George W. Bush’s troubled tenure.

He mentioned his family name only once, in welcoming his 90-year-old mother, Barbara Bush, adding “not a one of us deserves the job (of president) by right of resume, party, seniority or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn.” By contrast, Clinton brought her husband on stage after citing both him and Obama as “guided by the fundamental American belief that real and lasting prosperity must be built by all and shared by all.”

Both addressed enthusiastic supporters, Clinton last Saturday at a picturesque outdoor rally on New York’sRoosevelt Island, with a crowd that looked larger than it was, Bush on Monday in a Miami Dade College arena where placard-waving, chanting supporters evoked the flavor of a general election rally and an array of Hispanic-American speakers underscored his goal of broadening GOP appeal to Latinos.

Both sought to flesh out their résumés. Bush called himself “a reforming governor, not just another member of the club,” while Clinton detailed pre-governmental jobs working on the behalf of Mexican farm workers, children with disabilities and legal rights for the poor, plus work as a U.S. senator and as secretary of state “in the Situation Room on the day we got (Osama) bin Laden.” Interestingly, she neither mentioned her time as first lady, nor Eleanor Roosevelt, whose example inspired her first presidential bid.

While both speeches mixed personal backgrounds and policy prescriptions with partisan denunciations of their rivals, Bush was more personal, deriding Obama as “our outgoing president” and declaring “the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended and alliances unraveling.”

Clinton offered policy proposals in more areas, but Bush set a specific goal of increasing annual economic growth to 4 percent, a level ironically not achieved since Bill Clinton’s second term, and creating 19 million new jobs.

Their approach to social issues displayed the vast gulf between the parties. Clinton stressed the need to protect minorities, including the LGBT community, and eliminate barriers to voting. Bush accused the administration of “shabby treatment” of the Little Sisters of the Poor over its objections to Obamacare and criticized Clinton for saying “religious beliefs” and other barriers to laws protecting reproductive rights “have to be changed.”

Their success in the months ahead will determine if 2016 becomes a legacy runoff. If it does, it will ensure Americans a lively and interesting contrast.

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