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10/30/2013

Jeb Bush in Toronto: seen but not heard

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush's appearance in Toronto is being tightly controlled. No annoying questions from ink-stained wretches allowed. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

On Wednesday George W. Bush's smarter, younger brother (or so we're told) speaks in Toronto at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon. But here's the rub: His U.S. handlers have put a strict media embargo on recording his speech, barring a three-minute video mime show without sound. And there'll be no intrusive journo questions when it's done.

Ink-stained wretches, if there are any left kicking around, are welcome to squint at their notebooks and scribble. But unless Jeb adopts a slo-mo John Wayne drawl, the possibilties for actual quotes are lower than for a new debt ceiling deal next week.

But whoa Nelly.

Could it be that Jeb -- the former Florida governor touted as a 2016 Republican presidential candidate (if Dubya hasn't burnt the Bushes for a generation to come) -- is just an old-fashioned guy who wants to lead a cavalry charge of classic pen-and-ink journalism to combat those ADD twitterversers and YouTubers?

That could stimulate a whole new job creation program in shorthand: teaching the delightfully quaint skill that preceded the smartphone thumb. And in a third generation Bush presidency, who knows, there could be room for a revival of the portable typewriter. Every reporter worth her or his paltry pay would be clamouring for the services of a telegrapher.

Not so likely?

Then the alternative, it seems, is an equally retro desire to keep the fine print of Jeb's thoughts from the public at large, something few politicians are willing to do in an age of aggressive self-promotion.

That would be a shame. According to the advance blurb, Jeb was set to apply his "visionary understanding" of America's future to a few "simple questions" like defining its core values for tough economic times and parsing its current policies on issues from education to the economy and immigration. (For the record, he's for it. Or maybe not.)

He'll throw in a critique of the Obama administration and -- no secret here -- a look ahead to 2016, when he may run as a Republican rescue remedy, countering the crazies who have plummeted the party's polls while steering the economy into the ground.

Or will he?

"This is not the right time to be thinking about that," he told ABC news last week with characteristic pragmatism. While adding that neither public distaste for Washington's "massive dysfunction" nor the feeling that three Bushes on the summit of power are at least one too many would dissuade him from running. If indeed he decides to run.

And we can quote him on that.

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia, and the last two U.S. presidential campaigns.

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