Earlier today, the Huffington Post reported on an excerpt of Jeb Bush's 1995 book Profiles in Character, which advocated for publicly shaming unwed mothers in a chapter titled "The Restoration of Shame."
One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.
Bush points to the 19th century American classic The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne as an example of the "historical roots of public shaming."
"Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots."
Jeb Bush's analysis of The Scarlet Letter, which seems to indicate he believes Hawthorne's book endorsed public shaming, led some Twitter users to wonder how he would interpret other books in the classroom.
...which led to writer Dianna E. Anderson creating #JebBushinEnglishClass.
Twitter users imagined how Bush would interpret everything from The Great Gatsby to Jane Eyre:
Anderson told BuzzFeed that she came up with the hashtag partly because of being "offended," but out of humor, too.
I started the hashtag because I found his comments on the Scarlet Letter so woefully misguided and absolutely hilarious that I had to apply that kind of reading to other works of literature. My mom was an English teacher and I grew up surrounded by literature, so part of me is offended at the apparent state of Bush's education and the other part is laughing hysterically at a Bushian approach to Literary Criticism.
Bush's comments on The Scarlet Letter may be from twenty years ago, however, that doesn't limit their real life ramifications.
According to reporting in the Huffington Post, in 2001, while governor of Florida, Bush did not veto the "Scarlet Letter" law, which required unwed mothers, who did not know the identity of the father, to detail their sexual history in the newspaper before going through with adoption proceedings. In 2003, Bush did sign a repeal of the law after it was challenged in court.