MAXWELL:  Dear Jeb, your attitude needs work

1/26/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Hello Gov. Jeb Bush,

This is my first e-mail to you. I am making it public because of the stink you instigated last week, the one in which _ despite your assertion that you were talking about reporters _ you referred to two black legislators staging a sit-in near your office and said “kick their asses out.”

Profanity does not bother me, Jeb, because I am a Marine and a ghetto manchild who has been known to use a few graphic &%$+!!! myself. What does bother me, though, is the attitude in your words. I do not even mind your volcanic temper.

And let us get one thing straight up-front: Unlike many other journalists, I like you and wish you well. I respect what you have done for the kids at Liberty City Charter School, and I applaud your dialogue with farm workers.

That said, back to your attitude. You are a true-blue Republican _ a privileged white dude with so many breaks in life that the world literally is your oyster. I mean, your father is a wealthy former United States president. You never worried about anything _ the next meal, a roof over your head, home heating oil, a reliable car, money for college, health insurance, a job. You have had it all, Jeb, for just being born.

Like the typical Republican, you are a creature of class. You believe in it, and you live it. You know what I mean by class: the division of society into social ranks and castes. High and low. Attitude, Jeb. One of the problems with you and most other Republicans is that you all lie about class, pretending that it does not matter.

Even worse, many of you all delude yourselves into believing that class does not exist in America. You all do not want to talk about class because it reminds you all that the GOP is, as blacks have always said, a bunch of mean-spirited, country-club white boys who still cannot get that noblesse oblige thing right.

When politicians downplay the significance of class, at least two bad things happen. One, they distort reality. Two, they make bad laws. Let me give you an example, Jeb. Your A+ Plan to improve Florida’s public schools has a few nice touches. But it also has a terrible flaw that results from your attempt to avoid class.

The flaw is that all schools, no matter how rich or poor, are graded the same. The truth is that poor schools, such as those in Miami’s Liberty City, make up the bulk of the failing schools. Why? It is a class thing, Jeb. Kids in Miami’s wealthy Kendall community invariably perform much better than those poor ones in Overtown. This is not rocket science, my man. Just dirty reality.

Whenever journalists make this point, you and that Frank Brogan guy accuse us of believing that poor black children cannot learn. I do not know anyone who believes such crap, Jeb. You and Brogan are not telling the truth, and you two know it.

Confidentially, Jeb, I think the A+ Plan may yield some good results if we ‘fess up about class and, unapologetically, put more money and resources into our poorer schools. Even better _ while the state is rolling in lucre _ we need to train many low-income parents how to be effective parents, how to put their children’s education first. We are still talking class, Jeb. And attitude.

You and that Brogan act as if only you two care about Florida’s schools and children. Well, Jeb, my son attended public school, my daughter graduates in May and my grandson is in fifth grade. My siblings and I attended public school. We give a damn. And my colleagues here at the Times _ who have sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in our schools _ care.

Even some of your fellow lawmakers accuse you of having a rotten attitude, calling you a control freak whose body language telegraphs disrespect for other officials, especially those who disagree with you.

And, Jeb, your nasty attitude toward the press will not help you and your cause. We are not going away, and you cannot control us. We are doing our job when we watch you. “No comment” and snide remarks (which you are full of) hurt you more than you think, Jeb. Most journalists are college-educated, well-read, well-traveled, hard-boiled professionals. So do not talk down to us or try to push us around. We push back, and we watch governors come and go.

Last point: You may want to lose black sycophants Willie Logan, James Hargrett and Rudy Bradley. Time will prove that these soul brothers do not have a clue, Jeb.

Well, that is all for now. Any time I think you are getting too big for your britches, I will e-mail you. And I know how much you love e-mail. Until your next “kick their asses out!” moment, your pal, Bill Maxwell.