Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush, the two Republicans that the Clinton camp fears most as possible rivals in 2016, were the main speakers at the Manhattan Institute gala event in Midtown on Monday night.
I was fortunate enough to get a few words with both men and to listen to two fine, intriguing speeches that were far removed from the usual Fox News fodder that passes for Republican thinking these days.
To my surprise, Bush was the most impressive speaker of the night. His stirring speech nailed down, again, the conviction that the wrong brother got elected twice to the White House.
Jeb is W with intellectual heft and original insights into issues such as immigration reform.
Speaking to him before his speech, he was pessimistic about the opportunity for reform this year, aware of the Irish undocumented issue and has clearly taken this issue to heart.
On the podium Bush pounded the know-nothing sector of his party who want to end immigration now, saying they were against the very idea of America. Everyone has someone who came from somewhere else and worked their way up the ladder of the American dream, he explained.
Bush pointed out that immigrants were massive net contributors to American life and the economy, much more likely to start businesses, ensure education for their offspring and appreciate what they had been given.
I found myself wondering why President Obama could not put together such a succinct presentation of the benefits of immigration the way that Bush did.
It clearly benefits Bush that his wife is Mexican. He speaks Spanish and has understood the nuances of this issue in a profound way.
He is also very passionate about education, about ensuring that children not be passed along to the next grade if they are unable to meet core standards of reading and writing. It all makes so much basic sense.
Bush’s problem, as it is for all moderate Republicans, is to get through a primary process that is dominated by more conservative voters and slews to the hard right. If he does, the Clintons and other Democrats are right to be worried. Jeb is not W mark 2.
Congressman Ryan is another moderate and rising star. In conversation with him he seemed tepid also on the prospects for immigration reform this year.
He has been one of the key players on the GOP side trying to do a deal. Like Bush he spoke about the benefits of education, of immigration and of simply having a job.
Ryan has been visiting poverty stricken areas over the past year seeking answers to the perennial issue of why the poverty line for so many remains permanent, and why the dangers that millions of Americans will never make it to the middle class are very real.
Ryan is pilloried on the left for his budget and employment ideas, but there is certainly something to the argument that the war on poverty started by Lyndon Johnson over half a century ago has been an abject failure and we need new thinking.
I think Democrats are right to fear Ryan and Bush based on what I saw of them at the Manhattan Institute dinner.
The old truths will die hard among both Democrats and Republicans, but it is clearly time for a new vision of America. If Ryan or Bush are able to come out of the primaries alive, watch out.
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