Kingsley Guy: Bush turned himself into formidable candidate

Jeb Bush is sounding more and more like he'll make a bid for the presidency.

Go for it, Jeb. Unless the Republican Party gets some adult supervision on a national level it risks a decline into irrelevancy.

I first met Bush in 1994 during his first campaign for Florida governor. He stopped by the Sun-Sentinel a couple times that year for meetings with the Editorial Board and was singularly unimpressive. He came across as an aloof scion of a prominent political family who felt entitled to elective office without having to work for it.

Bush lost to incumbent Lawton Chiles. Some Bush supporters attributed his loss to 11th-hour "push polling" by Democratic operatives that frightened senior citizens into thinking Bush would undermine Social Security, an interesting contention since governors don't have anything to do with the federal program. The Democrats certainly were guilty of a dirty trick, but that wasn't the cause of Bush's defeat. He lost because of the popularity of Chiles and his own inadequacy as a candidate.

In 1998, Bush was back for a second try. When he first stopped by the Sun-Sentinel that year, I expected an unimpressive repeat performance. To my surprise, he seemed to be a changed man. Bush displayed a prodigious intellect. He was in command of the issues and approachable rather than aloof. Bush ran an energetic and successful campaign and he turned out to be a highly effective governor.

I had never seen such a complete transformation in a politician. I've mentioned this over the years to a few people who have been close to Bush and they've concurred with my observation.

After his loss, Bush was inconsolable, but eventually he emerged from defeat as a stronger human being.

Recently, Bush has been outspoken on the need for immigration reform. He also has supported "Common Core" national education standards. His positions on these issues amount to heresy in the opinion of tea partiers and far right commentators, whom most Republican politicians are reluctant to offend. Bush, however, seems willing to talk sense to them regardless of the consequences, and put the long term interest of the country ahead of the short-term interest of himself and his party.

That's a rarity in today's politics, but it represents the kind of leadership the nation needs.

Last year, the federal government's budget "sequester" caused the last-minute cancellation of visits by Navy and Coast Guard vessels to Port Everglades. They were to have arrived in conjunction with "Fleet Week," which has been a part of the civic fabric of Greater Fort Lauderdale since 1990. Organizers moved forward with many of the scheduled community events with the participation of service personnel assigned to South Florida, but the popular public tours of ships and boats that help guard the nation's freedom were sorely missed.

This year, the Navy and Coast Guard vessels are back, albeit in reduced numbers. The Navy will be represented during the April 28-May 5 Fleet Week by the USS New York, an amphibious transport ship loaded with the equipment needed to put Marines ashore. The cutters Bernard C. Webber and Dependable will represent the Coast Guard. Because of security concerns, tours are arranged in advance and all of this year's slots already have been booked. Next year there should be a lot more tours offered, since Fleet Week organizers expect a much larger complement of vessels to visit the port.

The New York serves as a floating memorial to victims of 9-11. Nearly seven tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center were melted down for use in its keel. Several first responders who helped in the rescue efforts in lower Manhattan on that dreadful day, and who now live in South Florida, have been invited to accompany the ship from its home port near Jacksonville to Port Everglades.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of traveling on the USS Dallas fast-attack submarine as it made its way from Port Canaveral to Port Everglades to participate in Fleet Week. It was an experience I'll never forget, and I can't say enough about the quality and professionalism of the Dallas' captain and crew.

The many events and outreach programs associated with Fleet week provide an opportunity for people to interact with service personnel and gain a better understanding of life in the military. This is especially important in this day and age when relatively few Americans have ever worn a military uniform.

Watch Kingsley Guy, whose column appears every other Sunday, on Barry Epstein Live, http://www.wrpbitv.com., 10 a.m. Fridays, or archived on the site.

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