A Toxic Troika? A Note on ‘Optics’ and ‘Metrics’

Jeb Bush, left, speaking Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C., in support of Thom Tillis, a Republican candidate for the Senate. Credit Chuck Burton/Associated Press

When studying the Castor and Pollux of politics and punditry it might help to bear in mind that many of the buzzwords are intended to sound quasi-scientific in order to hide the fact that the terms describe artistic results. A metric, for instance, is simply an abstract measurement in unknown units compared to a presupposed psychomoral idyll that may or may not be available for examination and should never be trusted in the first place, anyway. The metrics of a situation are whatever the pundit wishes to describe in order to make his or her own narrative sound that much more compelling.

But then there are the optics of a situation, and this is a fairly easy explanation. Political optics are, quite literally, nothing more than appearances within a frame described by a pundit’s metrics.

In one of his first public appearances of the 2014 campaign, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida had a vivid preview Wednesday of the challenges he would face with his party’s conservative base should he seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

Standing alongside Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker and Republican Senate candidate, Mr. Bush outlined his views on two of the issues he cares most passionately about: immigration policy and education standards. But as Mr. Bush made the case for an immigration overhaul and the Common Core standards, Mr. Tillis gently put distance between himself and his guest of honor, who had flown here from Florida on a dreary day to offer his endorsement in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate.


Ah, optics!

As appearances go, it is a pretty basic question of how it looks when you show up to support someone, and that person pushes you away because your support is apparently toxic. But the optics depend on the metric. One could just as easily carry the appearance to the optics as build a framework asserting that such conflicts remind of the tremendous diversity of the Republican Party, with the politicians’ humanity coming through in unscripted, awkward moments.

Jeb Bush, left, speaking Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C., in support of Thom Tillis, a Republican candidate for the Senate. (Credit Chuck Burton/Associated Press)But there is something even more optical in the optics. Chuck Burton’s photo for Associated Press, showing Bush and Tillis together at the Greensboro event, has its own value for those willing to consider a certain metric. That is to say, take note of the sign in the foreground. That sign? The one reading “NFIB”?

So how is this for optics? Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, North Carolina Speaker of the House and U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Or: Jeb Bush, Thom Tillis, and the people who want to destroy health insurance reform.

And while Jonathan Martin of the New York Times notes the obvious point about Bush’s nomination potential within the GOP—

For Jeb Bush, who has not been in office since 2007, all the rhetorical footwork showed what he would have to contend with should he seek the Republican nomination.

—it is just as important that we not overlook the implications for everyone else.

Jeb Bush, Thom Tillis, and NFIB.


Martin, Jonathan. “Jeb Bush Returns to Fray and Finds Going Rough”. The New York Times. 24 September 2014.

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