In a packed room in College Hall on Wednesday night, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush gave his first talk at Penn since being named the second Presidential Practice Professor. Bush addressed the partisan nature in politics today and the lack of dialogue that exists across the aisle, urging conservatives to return to the idea that America is the land of opportunity.
The event, co-hosted by the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy and Penn Political Union, focused on the state of American democracy and what Bush calls increased “tribal tendencies” in partisan politics in a time of Trump and social media.
Bush was hired earlier this year in a move towards bipartisanship to serve as a conservative counterpart to Penn's popular first Presidential Practice Professor Joe Biden. The talk was moderated by Director of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy Jeffrey Green.
During the talk, Bush answered questions about immigration, poverty, social media, and data privacy. Following the moderated conversation, he answered questions from the Centrist, Conservative, Progressive, Liberal, and Libertarian representatives of the Penn Political Union.
During the event, Bush discussed some of his conservative views — including an opposition to Medicaid for all and the importance of traditional marital family structure — but also stressed that he believed everyone should have the opportunity to succeed in America, including immigrants and those who were formerly incarcerated.
“[Immigrants] are every bit as American as the people that live in Philadelphia,” Bush said.
Bush, who once called Trump a "jerk" and expressed a desire to beat him up, said he thinks social media has a negative polarizing impact on politics. Addressing the 1968 Wharton grad by name, Bush said Trump is a horrible president symbolically, even if he has had some positive policies.
In his 30 years of political experience, Bush said he's noted a shift in American politics from being based on aspiration and optimism to being grounded in pessimism.
“Conservatism should get back to the message of, ‘You have the capacity to dream the biggest, and we’re going to help you with that,’” Bush said, criticizing both current liberal and conservative politics.
College senior Jack Hostager said he was surprised by the more liberal opinions Bush expressed, such as granting greater rights to formerly incarcerated people. Both he and College senior Nick Hagemann said that while they didn't agree with everything Bush said, they appreciated his promotion of healthy debate.
“Even if we disagree on policy implications, it is reassuring to be reminded of the things we agree on,” Hostager said. “At Penn, we sometimes forget we have something to gain from constructive dialogue.”
According to College sophomore and PPU Conservative Caucus Chair Justin Greenman, Bush is the biggest speaker the Union has had in the past few years, and he welcomed his reputation of compromise.
“In today’s climate, we hear a lot from the extreme,” Greenman said. “It gives conservatism a bad name."
As the hour-long event concluded, a discussion of Bush's plans for 2020 arose. However, he quickly shut down talk of a possible run for president.
“The revival will be lead by the younger people," he said.