Jeb Bush announced that he was running for president on Monday.
There are a lot of things you can say about yet another Bush presidential candidacy. You can say that we are moving dangerously close to establishing permanent political dynasties in America.
You could also say that Bush may end up being the kind of president his brother was, and that will thrill some people and scare the bejeezus out of others. All of that stuff and more will surely be analyzed to death.
What will probably be discussed less is a fork in the road Bush faced when he was a teenager. He faced a choice: spend time in a famous Irish American enclave, or visit a whole other country entirely.
Bush chose the latter. His life would never be the same.
“Jeb Bush’s courting of [his future wife] Columba at 17 is possibly the most outlandish thing he’s ever done,” Laura Miller writes in this month’s Atlantic Monthly cover story about Bush’s marriage.
“In a family where the sons traditionally choose their wives from a small society circle, Jeb’s choice registered as baffling, even reckless. In 1970, as a senior at Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts, he took a class called Man and Society which explored poverty, conflicts and the dynamics of power.
“At the end of the winter term, the students could choose to spend three months either in a poor neighborhood in South Boston or in a poor indigenous village outside León, Mexico. Jeb was from Texas and already studying Spanish. Along with 10 other classmates, he opted to skip the Boston winter.”
Bush, of course, went on to marry the young woman he fell in love with in Mexico. His classmate Lawry Bump described the trip as a “real awakening.”
Bush even converted to Catholicism, which is interesting because a person like Bush is not who comes to mind when you hear the term “America’s second Roman Catholic president.”
But what if Bush had, instead, gone to South Boston? These days, Southie is – for better or worse – undergoing radical change.
Like gritty urban areas all over the Northeast, South Boston is gentrifying and it is not nearly as Irish as it once was. But back in 1970?
Bush would have met a “wicked laaaaarge” number of Irish Americans. What else might have happened had Bush spent some time in “a poor neighborhood in South Boston?”
We can imagine Bush and his Phillips Academy pals, say, waking into a dive bar called Sully’s. There would be laughter, of course.
Someone named Pat or Kevin or Sully would stop laughing long enough to ask: “Your names are really Jeb and Lawry?”
There would be more laughter. The night would go on. Things would loosen up.
Jeb and Lawry (snicker, snicker) would make it clear they were in Southie to do good deeds for the poor. Kevin or Pat or Sully would say: “Is that so?”
They might then explain that they happen to know a friend of a friend who needed some help. They had a package – no need to ask what was inside the package – that needed to be delivered from one part of town to another.
They’d give Jeb and Lawry an address. When they knocked on the door a tough-talking beauty named Maureen or Eileen or Kathleen would open it. Jeb’s heart would have fluttered so much he could barely get his name out.
When Maureen or Eileen or Kathleen stopped laughing, she would move to get the package. But at the last moment, she’d hesitate.
“You knucklehead,” she’d say. “Those guys are trying to set you up. Don’t they teach you anything useful at Phillips Academy?”
Thus, an unlikely Southie love story might have begun. Jeb would share his political dreams with his new found love. Why not? She knew a thing to two about Southie politics.
“We’ll be so happy in Washington,” Jeb would sigh.
“Huh?” Hell no! I ain’t leaving Southie.”
And so, Jeb might have settled in Southie. He’d try and run for local office. There was much laughter, since Jeb Bush is about as Irish as chow mein.
And then, Jeb and his unlikely Irish lass had some kids and lived happily ever after. He never had a chance to run for president.
Now that’s what I would call a happy ending.* Contact [email protected]