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“The Worst Of Times”: George W. Bush’s Presidency, Gliding Over The Costly Mistakes

How little there is to celebrate about George W. Bush.  How much there is to rue. Next to his son, his father’s short presidency seems worth at least a short thank you note.

The younger Bush’s presidential library fanfare calls for a reckoning before his rangers paint pretty lies the size of Texas all over the place. The squat man in the cowboy hat, Dick Cheney, was a useful reminder of the greatest one: you know, something about Iraq and WMD. Then came the war started under false premises and promises to the world community. After nine years, we left the country in shambles, like a trashed fraternity house, Bush’s scene at Yale. The untold civilian death toll is kept hidden in the shadows.

Before Bush took the oath of office, we knew his true colors from the darkness down in Florida. Folly, farce and tragedy were not far behind for American democracy, and perhaps you can say we deserved it. But he also hurt the whole world and our standing in it.

The pretty paint job on his presidency has already started. Another Bush war is now being waged on the truth. For starters, the gallery of living presidents gave Bush a platform to laud himself for staying “true to our convictions.”

What’s so great about that? Not only was he wrongheaded, but always aggressively so. He never looked back, he never thought twice. In this way, Bush reminds one of Andrew Jackson, his doppelganger. At least Jackson fought his own battles – like the one in New Orleans, the beguiling city Bush flew over on Air Force One when it was drowning. He later looked upon the Wall Street meltdown with the same kind of bemused detachment.

There are three things you are going to hear about Bush. He kept us safe. He expanded freedom. Finally, history will decide. That’s the tough crowd’s storyline and, in a way, its marching order. Pundit Charles Krauthammer picked up on it fast, asserting in The Washington Post that Bush “created the entire anti-terror infrastructure that continues to keep us safe.”

You have to admire such excellent embellishment.

As for keeping us safe, the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened on Bush’s watch, despite intelligence warnings all summer that the system was “blinking red.” His national security people, notably Condoleezza Rice, persistently ignored the threat of al-Qaida, and Bush himself rudely dismissed a CIA briefer at his Crawford vacation ranch in August for bearing more bad tidings of a terrorist plot within the United States. Really rude, because presumably he had better things to do that day.

If Bill Clinton had been president on 9/11, you can bet on him being blamed by the Republicans ’till he was out of town by sundown. Yet somehow, some way, it became the best thing that happened to Bush, the jump start to his presidency. Who can forget his inspiring leadership, telling us to fight terrorists by going shopping?

Ready to move on to expanding freedom? An absurd claim from the man who opened the sinister specter on Guantanamo, where scores of men have been held for years as terrorist suspects. There is no trial in sight after torture was visited upon many of them in the name of expanding freedom. Closer to home, the Patriot Act swiftly became law after 9/11, which clamped down on civil rights and freedoms, right down to our library books.

So much for keeping us safe and expanding freedom. The best defense Bush uses as an apologia for the wasteland of his eight years, at home and abroad, is that history will decide. Curiously, he even asks visitors to his library to make mock decisions in his shoes. He seems to be pleading: “It was hard!”

That won’t wash, for we know Bush has a reckless disregard for history. In a telling moment with Bob Woodward, Bush scoffed at the notion of history’s judgment, saying that we’ll all be dead anyway.

The library’s soft focus on hard facts cannot be the final say about George W. Bush. Shakespeare would have a field day with the father-son rivalry, the doting, sharp-tongued mother, and the colorful Cabinet war council – producing our own “war president.”

In the Bard’s absence, Bill Clinton slyly spoke to the truth of the Texas scene, stating that former presidents use their libraries to rewrite history. Clinton was also a reminder of “high cotton” peace and prosperity, a land where we lived in the best of times. Then came the worst of times. And that’s no lie.


By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, April 29, 2013

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bush v Gore”: Maybe The Supreme Court Should Have Said “Let Democracy Take Its Course”

Now she tells us.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hasn’t given much thought to which was the most important case she helped decide during her 25 years on the bench. But she has no doubt which was the most controversial.

It was Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount and decided the 2000 presidential election.

Looking back, O’Connor said, she isn’t sure the high court should have taken the case.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” O’Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.'”

In talking to the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, the retired justice added that the case “gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation.”

You don’t say.

O’Connor went on to say Florida election officials “hadn’t done a real good job there” — she seems to have quite an appreciation for understatements — but the high court “probably … added to the problem at the end of the day.”

Had the Supreme Court not intervened, the 2000 recount process in Florida almost certainly would have continued. If all the state’s ballots had been properly counted, then-Vice President Al Gore “would have won, by a very narrow margin,” according to an independent newspaper consortium that examined all of the ballots.

O’Connor, in other words, was one of five justices who directly dictated the outcome of a national presidential election, helping elect the candidate who came in second.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 29, 2013

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Supreme Court | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Brace Yourselves Republicans”: Three New Facts About The Tea Party That You’re Not Going To Like

For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists.

Until now. The results of the first political science survey of Tea Party activists show that the constituency isn’t going away any time soon—and Republicans hoping the activists will begin to moderate their stances should prepare for disappointment. Based out of the College of William and Mary, the report surveyed more than 11,000 members of FreedomWorks, one of the largest and most influential Tea Party groups. The political scientists also relied on a separate survey of registered voters through the YouGov firm to compare those who identified with the Tea Party movement to those Republicans who did not. (Disclosure: The political scientist leading the survey was my father, Ronald Rapoport, with whom I worked in writing this piece.)

For the first time, we can now look at what a huge sample of Tea Party activists believe, as well as examine how those who identify with the Tea Party differ from their establishment GOP counterparts. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the study:

1. Tea Party activists are not Republicans.

Republicans are now reliant on the Tea Party. While the number of Tea Party supporters has declined since 2010, they still make up around half of Republicans, according to NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys. More important, they are the most active supporters when it comes to voting in primaries, volunteering on campaigns, and participating in various other activities political parties are reliant upon. Seventy-three percent of Republicans who attended a political rally or meeting identified with the Tea Party. The activists are vehemently anti-Democratic. Among the FreedomWorks sample, only 3 percent of people voted for Obama or a Democratic House candidate in 2008, and less than 6 percent identify as either independents or Democrats.

Yet the Tea Party activists doing work for the Republicans are surprisingly negative about the party they’re helping. While 70 percent of FreedomWorks activists identify as Republican, another 23 percent reject the Republican label entirely and instead, when asked which political party they identify with, choose “other.” Asked if they considered themselves more Republican or more a Tea Party member, more than three-quarters chose Tea Party.

Given that so many don’t identify with the GOP, it’s perhaps not surprising that the activists also rate the party they vote for so poorly. Given a spectrum of seven choices from “outstanding” to “poor,” only 9 percent of activists rated the Republican Party in the top two categories. Meanwhile, 17 percent put the party in the bottom two. In total, 32 percent rated the party in one of the three positive categories while a whopping 40 percent rated the party in one of the negative ones.

In other words, the activists providing a huge amount of the labor and enthusiasm for Republican candidates are, at best, lukewarm on the party they’re voting for. Few are concerned about what their impact on the future of the GOP will be. Which brings us to:

2. Tea Party activists aren’t nearly as concerned about winning.

Or at least they’re significantly more concerned with ideological purity than with political pragmatism. The survey asked FreedomWorks activists if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “When we feel strongly about political issues, we should not be willing to compromise with our political opponents.” Altogether, more than 80 percent agreed to some extent. Thirty-two percent of respondents “agree strongly” with the statement. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent disagreed even “slightly.” In another series of questions sent out to FreedomWorks activists, the survey asked whether they would prefer a candidate with whom they agree on most important issues but who polls far behind the probable Democratic nominee or a candidate with whom they agree “on some of the most important issues” but who’s likely to win. More than three-fourths of respondents preferred the candidate who was more likely to lose but shared their positions.

In other words, the Tea Party cares more about what nominees believe than whether they can win—and compromising on politics means compromising on principle.

The findings help explain what’s happened in so many GOP primary races.  Both nationally and at the state level, moderate GOP officeholders found themselves with primary challengers. The Tea Party has helped propel several upstart candidacies, like Christine O’Donnell’s infamous effort to win Delaware’s Senate seat or more recently, Richard Mourdock’s successful challenge to sitting Senator Dick Lugar. In both of those cases, and several others, the Tea Party candidate has proved too extreme for the general election and lost. But despite the losses, the push toward conservative purity continues. A recent New York Times story showed that even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, seen as the leader with the most clout in the Tea Party movement, has been unable to move the faction’s members in his party into more moderate terrain. In light of these survey results, that makes sense—Tea Party elected officials are simply reflecting their supporters. Meanwhile, those left in the establishment fear the party’s new direction.

3. Attempts to bridge the gap between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party are doomed to fail.

There’s no shortage of moves from Republicans to keep the Tea Party in the fold while shifting things more to the center. After the dismal GOP performance in the 2012 elections, establishment figures began pushing back against the Tea Party. Famous consultant Karl Rove announced a new political action committee designed to challenge extreme GOP candidates with more marketable ones. The national party even put out a report after the 2012 losses that pushed for more pragmatic candidates that could have a broader appeal. As noted, even Eric Cantor is trying.

But the gap between the two groups is huge. In the YouGov survey the study uses, more than two-thirds of Tea Partiers put themselves in the two most conservative categories on economic policy, social policy, and overall policy. Only 23 percent of non-Tea Partiers place themselves in the most conservative categories on all three issues; nearly 40 percent don’t locate themselves in the most conservative categories for any of the three policy areas.

Most jarring: On some issues, like abolishing the Department of Education and environmental regulation, the establishment Republicans are actually closer to Democrats than they are to the Tea Party respondents. That’s a gap too large to be overcome by a few political action committees and gestures of goodwill.

Tea Party activists dominate the Republican Party, and they’re no less willing to compromise with the GOP than they are with Democrats. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe summed it up nicely in his book title: Hostile Takeover.

Simply put, the GOP is too reliant on the Tea Party—and based on these survey results, the Tea Party doesn’t care about the GOP’s fate. It cares about moving the political conversation increasingly rightward.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, April 29, 2013

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Lesson In Civics”: If A Budget Cut Doesn’t Impact The Wealthy, Congress Won’t Fix It

As thousands of air travelers suffered through flight delays last week, the average American got a lesson in civics: when you cut government spending, it has real life consequences. Americans are fond of saying that they want to slash government spending in the abstract, but loath to point to specific programs that they actually want to cut. With sequestration, this ambivalence has come home to roost. Because the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration affect all programs evenly, the ones that touch middle-class Americans, not just the poor, have suffered equally.

We haven’t just learned a lesson about the effects of budget cutting, though. We’ve also been able to see the priorities of Congress in stark relief. The flight delays, a result of furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration, were not the first effects of sequestration. Those were visited on the poor. Yet the FAA was the only agency that saw swift and bipartisan action. After Congress was flooded with calls from angry travelers—not to mention, as lawmakers started down flight delays for their own flights home for recess—the Senate and House each passed a bill with overwhelming support within forty-eight hours. When’s the last time you remember that happening for any other issue?

The poor have long known that a budget cut passed in Congress means hardship in real life. This dynamic was in full force as sequestration went into effect. The first to be hit by the reduction in funds, by and large, were low-income Americans. Preschoolers have been kicked out of Head Start. Food pantries have closed. Native American health services have been reduced. Thousands of cancer patients on Medicare have been turned away from clinics. Meals on Wheels is delivering to fewer elderly people. The long-term unemployed will receive severely reduced benefit checks.

While these cuts have been well covered by local media, the rest of us haven’t heard much about them. Yet when furloughs delayed flights, they dominated the media, as did the cancellation of White House tours. In mainstream cable news coverage, flights were mentioned about two and a half times more than Head Start, over twice as much as cancer patients, and six and a half times more than Meals on Wheels. White House tours were even worse: they were mentioned thirty-three times as often as the sequester’s impact on the poor.

The coverage of tours and flights was likely driven by something we don’t see very often: budget cuts that impact nearly all Americans. Targeted cuts tend to focus on programs that the poor rely on, and we rarely hear those stories. But even middle-class and well-to-do Americans were feeling what it’s like to have reduced government spending in their daily lives when they went to the airport and waited an extra hour to take off. This is surely a mere inconvenience compared to losing food or housing if you’re poor, but it’s still important: Americans of all income levels may finally be learning the importance of government spending in their lives.

As Suzanne Mettler has demonstrated, many Americans do in fact benefit from government services. But few realize it. Mettler calls this the “submerged state”: the variety of public programs that are delivered in such a way, such as through the tax code, that many don’t realize they’re getting assistance. The epitome of this contradiction is the senior who shouts, “Get your government hands off my Medicare!”

For this reason, perhaps, well-off Americans tend to be less concerned with spending on the social safety net and more interested in cutting government spending. This has huge consequences for our political system. A body of research has shown that the needs and desires of the poor rarely influence how their representatives vote. On the other hand, Congress’s priorities nearly duplicate those of the wealthy.

And here is the last lesson sequestration has taught us: just how much more Congress cares about what’s bothering upper-middle-class citizens than what’s going on at the bottom of the income scale. There are tons of different programs expecting a big impact from sequestration. None of them saw multiple bills introduced in the Senate, one of which was passed with huge support on both sides of the aisle and signed within a matter of days. Had they continued, the furloughs would have been more than an inconvenience. They could have meant sharply reduced economic output. But the same could be said of many of the cuts to other programs. The lesson is not that the flight delays should have gone unaddressed. It’s that if a budget cut doesn’t impact a wealthy constituency, Congress can’t to be bothered to fix it.


By: Bryce Covert, The Nation, April 28, 2013

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Avoiding A Costly Military Enterprise”: Republicans Wrong About Every Foreign Policy Conflict Of The Last Few Decades

Late last week, with tenuous evidence emerging of the Assad regime possibly having used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed his ongoing frustration with the Obama administration. “I’m worried that the president and the administration will use the caveats as an excuse to not act right away or to not act at all,” he told Fox News.

McCain’s not the only Republican who feels this way — the fact that President Obama may look for “excuses” not to use the U.S. military to intervene in an another Middle Eastern country is a growing point of conservative consternation, as opposed to relief. On “Fox News Sunday,” Brit Hume sounded pretty disappointed when he described Syria as “a costly military enterprise of the kind that this president now seems to loath to undertake.”

As if that were grounds for criticism.

On the same program, Bill Kristol went further:

“This is not a president who wants to start another war, that’s the way he sees it. I think it’s totally irresponsible for the American president to have that. Nobody wants to start wars, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

I’m not entirely sure “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” is a sensible principle for U.S. foreign policy as it relates to launching yet another war in the Middle East, but Kristol seemed rather confident in his position. And it’s not like Kristol has a tragically awful track record on these issues, right?

And on “Face the Nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went just a little further still.

“[F]our things are going to happen if we don’t change course in Syria. It’s going to become a failed state by the end of the year. It’s fracturing along sectarian/ethnic lines. It’s going to be an al Qaeda safe haven.

“The second thing, the chemical weapons, enough to kill millions of people, are going to be compromised and fall into the wrong hands. And the next bomb that goes off in America may not have nails and glass in it.”

Yep, it sure sounds like Graham believes the U.S. has to intervene in Syria or we’ll face a chemical weapon attack on American soil. The “smoking gun as a mushroom cloud” argument didn’t go away; it just evolved.

For his part, John McCain, making his ninth Sunday show appearance of the year — the most of anyone in the country — now believes President Obama is to blame, at least in part, for the Assad regime’s offensives.

“What has happened here is the president drew red lines about chemical weapons thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that — including scud missiles and helicopter gunships and air strikes and mass executions and atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time,” McCain said.

The senator, who has the misfortune of being wrong about nearly every foreign policy conflict of the last few decades, added that he does not want the U.S. to invade Syria, but prefers to give “assistance” to rebels fighting the Assad regime.

Many of those same rebels, it’s worth emphasizing, have already pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, a detail McCain generally prefers to overlook when he argues we should give them resources and weapons.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 29, 2013

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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