1117_kuttner.jpgWith the rehabilitation of George W. Bush through the largely flattering coverage of his memoirs, the stage is set for the resumption of the Bush dynasty.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida is keeping his powder dry. He mostly disclaims any interest in running for president in 2012 but manages to keep the door open a crack.

Tuesday, an Orlando TV station, WESH, quoted Bush as keeping all options open.

I answer the questions forthrightly about 2012. I'm going to be involved. I have an education- reform foundation, trying to improve the plight of our education systems around the country, and I'm helping candidates that I believe in. … I'm Switzerland as it relates to national Republican politics, which gives me a chance to have my voice heard quietly the way I like it.

You have to translate the trademark Bush family syntax, but it definitely stops short of a Shermanesque refusal to run under any circumstances.

As the Bush parents and many Republican commentators have repeatedly made clear, Jeb is the brother who was supposed to be president, see for instance this chestnut by Fred Barnes in 2006, euphorically summing up Jeb Bush's achievements as Florida governor and pining away that the man won't be president.

But maybe he will.

Bush, now 57, is smarter, smirkier, and more right-wing than his big brother. He is probably just conservative enough for the Tea Partiers, and just moderate enough for the moderates. He'd inherit his brother's political team and family connections. He knows how to appeal to Hispanics, and might even undo some of the damage the Republican Party has suffered this year with Latino voters.

Jeb Bush spent eight years demolishing public services in Florida. When he left office, despite a huge investment in high-stakes testing, Florida ranked 50th in state education spending. Social services were slashed and substantially privatized.

Charlie Crist was an effective and popular governor and increasingly, is the nemesis of the right, in part because he repaired some of Bush's damage to state government.

It makes perfect sense that Bush is laying low for now. With no clear GOP favorite, and prospective candidates already burning through money and undermining each other, he could enter as a white knight later on.

If you go down the list, you can imagine the deadlock. Palin is a little too fey (as in Tina); Pawlenty too boring; Romney too stiff and mainstream, Huckabee too theocratic for moderates and too soft on the poor for the hard right; Gingrich loaded with too much baggage, Mitch Daniels too wonky. But Bush, who somehow doesn't make the usual lists of contenders, could be a late-entering unity candidate.

Why point this out in The American Prospect? Because Jeb Bush would also be a terrific lightening rod for demoralized progressives.

Three Presidents Bush! And each more of a menace than the last.

So we should be treating Jeb Bush as an undeclared presidential candidate, right now, and paying more attention to what he did to Florida, which unlike Texas is a strong governor state. If the specter of Bush III -- that would make it 41, 43, and 45 -- doesn't awaken us from our torpor, nothing will.

--Robert Kuttner

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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