November 10, 2015

Jeb Bush 730-page email collection: The death knell for ebooks?


Last week, in an attempt to troubleshoot his flagging campaign for president, Jeb Bush added another title to the myriad of marketing tools books by presidential candidates: an ebook titled Reply All. Coming in at a whopping 730 pages, it’s a self-selected compilation of the millions of emails Bush received, and replied to, as governor of Florida.

Yes, that is a blackberry on the shelf next to Governor Bush.

Yes, that is a Blackberry on the shelf next to Governor Bush. (Official Florida state portrait)

In the book’s forward, Bush explains his mastery of electronic mail:

“Millions of e-mails came in through our state website, but it wasn’t until I made my personal e-mail—[email protected]—public that I earned the nickname the ‘eGovernor.’ As much as I could, I e-mailed back. My staff estimated I spent thirty hours a week answering e-mails, either from my laptop or later my BlackBerry. I often did this while on the road. Otherwise I answered e-mails very early in the morning, late at night, or on Saturday.”

The ebook—as well as, a searchable database of “selected correspondence” from Bush’s two terms as governor—is probably meant at least in part as a not-so-veiled criticism of Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server.

But Clinton was Secretary of State and, often enough, she was emailing about matters of international concern, not to mention emailing Ben Affleck. The bulk of Bush’s published correspondence, on the other hand, focuses on everyday American concerns: homeowner insurance rates, custody laws, tractor trailer highway accidents, and, of course, pandering appeals from Bush’s friends and donors.

Maybe Bush is working a different angle here. Reply All is nothing if not a realistic, typo’d portrayal of a public servant’s tedious tasks and issues. As The New York Times’ Anna North said: “Part of the point of ‘Reply All’ is that there’s nothing scandalous in it. Nothing to see here, folks. Really nothing to see.”

The publication of Reply All was announced in conjunction with Bush’s renewed attempt at a campaign slogan, a transition from “Jeb!” to “Jeb can fix it.” The “nothing to see here” reaction may make it seem as if he’s still floundering when it comes to interesting Republicans voting for him, but at least he can point out his book is different: Ben Carson’s book, according to some, contains lies, as does Donald Trump’s most recent book.

There is one moment of refreshing weirdness—referring to an email instructing his staffers to purchase a sword for his “friend Marco Rubio,” Bush writes:

“I wanted to present to him a Chinese sword, since I was known to say from time to time, ‘I am going to unleash Chang.’ This meant I wanted to unleash a mythical power for conservative causes.”

But beyond that, tedium apparently reigns, as his brother might say. It could just be that, in a future debate, it will fall upon Bernie Sanders to once again proclaim, “The American people are sick of hearing about your damn emails.”



Ena Brdjanovic is Director of Digital Media at Melville House.