1. Opinion

For GOP grown-up, a tax pledge too far

It probably gives you some idea how far the Republican Party has drifted into the 16th century when Jeb Bush has emerged as a moderate voice of reason and common sense.

There are plenty of reasons why Bush has been pretty insistent he's not remotely interested in being Mitt Romney's running mate, not the least of which is the former Florida governor probably views the vice presidency as beneath him. But if there's a job that involves ermine robes, sedan chairs and thrones, well then, give Jeb a call. Perhaps he'll answer the phone. Perhaps not.

At 59, Bush seems to be enjoying his status as a party gray eminence, a sort of GOP Averell Harriman of South Florida. That has afforded Bush the rare gift to commit premeditated candor now and then. And it was during an appearance before the U.S. House Budget Committee the other day that Bush gave voice to what so many believe, but dare not utter for fear of offending Grover Norquist, the Iago of the Beltway.

For years Norquist has been the Republican Party's one-man blackball society, forcing candidates and officeholders to sign a ditzy pledge to never, never, never vote to raise taxes of any kind. They can't even think about it, or dream about it, or even mouth the word, or Norquist will unleash the gods of hellfire upon their careers with a vicious sneer.

Bush thinks this is silly. And Bush (and I can't believe I'm about to write this) is absolutely right.

During his committee appearance, Bush explained that while he too is tax-averse, he had never signed Norquist's loopy manifesto, noting: "I don't believe you outsource your principles and convictions to (other) people."

Uh-oh. This was more than exposing the emperor with no clothes. This was Bush delivering a wedgie to one of Washington's biggest bullies. In fact, the former governor went further, musing that it's entirely reasonable to consider tax increases under certain circumstances.

If this sort of Bush, R-Hanoi Jane, heresy went on any longer, why he risked being sent to a Koch Brothers re-education camp.

Bush created two problems here. First, he hinted that those Republicans who had signed the bumptious pledge were essentially little more than spineless, gutless toadies, all too happy to sign away their scruples to satisfy the demands of a self-anointed Washington insider. Some of these folks include signatory Mitt Romney, who would have signed Norquist's keister if he thought it would win him the support of the tea party's Herbert Hoover Brigade.

With a single comment, Bush exposed Republicans who love to tout their rugged individualism as little more than groveling curios on Norquist's stump charm bracelet.

And just as important, Bush blithely dismissed Norquist's bona fides as an influential player in national politics. A handful of other Republican candidates also have decried the pledge as absurd. Now the scion of one of the party's most revered families was undermining Norquist's dubious reputation as a power broker.

So it was no surprise the Moe Howard of the hustings lashed out, arguing Bush had insulted Romney, who had just spent several days air-kissing birther buffoon Donald Trump. But the lathered-up Norquist was only getting started as he argued Bush's criticism of the antitax pledge as coming from someone who is "not used to Washington politics."

Oh really? Let's review. Jeb Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was only a United States senator. His father, George H.W. Bush, served as Republican National Committee chairman, congressman, CIA director, ambassador to China, vice president and president. His older brother, George W. Bush, served two terms as president. And Bush was a two-term governor of the fourth-largest state — a job that required no small amount of well-honed political skills.

This was like suggesting Michael Jordan knows nothing of the nuances of the NBA.

Perhaps it has taken someone of Bush's only-adult-in-the-room stature within the Republican Party to at last confront the demagogues, reality-challenged crazies and ideological hucksters.

I never thought I'd ever type these words either, but thanks, Jeb.

You have no idea how taxing that was.