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Commentary: GOP could learn a lesson from Jeb Bush's 'grand bargain'

A little self-deprecating, forthright about the future — both his and the nation’s — and putting a kinder face on his party, Jeb Bush’s recent TV chat with Charlie Rose reminds us why the former Florida governor remains so popular.

Not just in the Sunshine State, but nationally. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted May 30 to June 3 puts Bush ahead of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio as potential running mates for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Jeb is both better known and more liked among GOP voters than the other two.

But Jeb keeps insisting he’s not running. Bummer. His interview with Rose, which aired in full on PBS and was highlighted on “CBS This Morning” last week, made that clear.

“Jeb Unshackled,” one headline noted. Unshackled, yes, but also consistent with his principles and true to his public record. On the stratospheric federal budget deficits, silly no-tax pledges, gay rights and immigration, Bush laid out his thoughts with respect to those who disagree and the type of refreshing honesty that escapes today’s political pander campaigns.

Take the federal budget deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office predicts will again hit $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row since the economy tanked under the banking shenanigans that caused the housing meltdown in the midst of fighting two unfunded U.S. wars in the Middle East and an unfunded expansion of Medicare drug benefits. Bush laid out the reality, and a solution, a “grand bargain,” he called it.

He didn’t mention the word “compromise” but that’s what it will take, both parties hashing out a budget that makes tough cuts and also raises more revenue in targeted areas. Cuts alone would devastate the economy and slow down the sputtering recovery.

“Here’s what I know to be true,” Bush said. “Next year or the year after there’s going to have to be a grand bargain. We are on an unsustainable course. It is not possible to continue to do what we’re doing today. . . . And I think most people that have looked at our structural deficit problems would admit it. If they were put on a lie detector or, you know, under oath or something like that, they would admit it.”

Bush told Congress recently he’s willing to accept one proposal (President Obama also has pitched this, knowing the GOP won’t bite) that would match $1 in higher revenue for every $10 in federal budget cuts. Romney’s not interested in that “grand bargain,” which Bush joked leads back to his own disinterest in the GOP ticket.

“It was living proof I’m not running for anything, I think, more than anything else.”

And that’s also why Bush can toss out a little praise for President Obama from time to time, as he did back in April when he said Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan has done “a pretty good job.”

“I don’t have to play the game of being 100,000 percent against President Obama,” Bush told Rose. “I got a long list of things that I think he’s done wrong. And I, with civility and respect, I will point those out if I’m asked. But on the things that I think he’s done a good job on, I’m not gonna just say, ‘no, no.’ ”

On the need for immigration reform Bush again pressed his party to find “a realistic way of dealing with people that are here illegally” and lead on this issue.

“It’s the one thing that separates us from the rest of the world — to say embrace our values, learn our language and work hard and dream big and create what you want to create because it helps all of us,” Bush said. “You have to deal with this issue, you can’t ignore it and so either a path to citizenship, which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives or a path to residency of some kind.”

Of course, he also looked to Obama for leadership and pointed out the obvious, that it’s a wedge issue that helps Democrats, so it’s politically easier to demonize the GOP on immigration than to try to come to a compromise and fix the system.

On same-sex marriage, Bush didn’t hide from his conservative belief that “traditional marriage is what should be sanctioned,” but “not at the expense of discriminating other forms of family structure.”

So he didn’t turn all “Church Lady” on us, maintaining that there should be a way to acknowledge gay unions.

“I don’t think people need to be discriminated against because they don’t share my belief on this, and if people love their children with all their heart and soul and that’s what they do and that’s how they organize their life that should be held up as examples for others to follow because we need it. We desperately need it and that can take all sorts of forms, it doesn’t have to take the one that I think should be sanctioned under the law.”

Bush’s hourlong interview with Rose offers lessons to the GOP about pitching conservative principles without ostracizing those who disagree as “unAmerican.”

Bush won’t be on the Romney ticket, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. He’s not a No. 2 kind of guy.