the national interest

Jeb Bush’s ‘Stuff Happens’ Response Was Fine

GOP Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush Campaigns In Las Vegas
Stuff happens to Jeb Bush all the time. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Today Jeb Bush was asked what is, by the standards of modern conservative thought, an anodyne question: In the wake of horrific shootings like Thursday’s in Oregon, should we have more prayer vigils? Bush supplied what is also, by the standards of modern conservative thought, an anodyne answer:

We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s very sad to see.

But I resist the notion—and I had this challenge as governor—because we had—look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

The news media immediately initiated its gaffe sequence, reducing Bush’s response to “stuff happens” and the context to the shootings in Oregon. Omitted from the gaffication was the intermediary process in Bush’s reply, when he generalized from a particular shooting to public problems in general, which led him to his position that frequently events occur and the proper response is nothing. That idea is not always wrong, not even for liberals, and certainly not for conservatives. Those of us who favor gun control find it terribly wrong as a response to mass shootings. But, again, denying any public policy response to endemic gun violence is a completely standard position in the GOP.

So the impulse to call Bush’s response a gaffe rests instead upon the callousness of the wording — “stuff happens.” But Bush was not applying that phrase specifically to yesterday’s tragedy. He was generalizing about events — many of them, yes, tragic. He was not dismissing the scope of the tragedy in Oregon. And without that element, there is not, or should not be, anything especially troublesome aside from the fact that Bush subscribes to a party doctrine that dismisses even the most sensible and minor limits on access to deadly weaponry.