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“Inconvenient Facts, Far Beyond The Pale”: Crazy Nut Donald Trump Thinks George W. Bush Was President On 9/11

Last fall, Donald Trump claimed that, on September 11, 2001, thousands of Muslims cheered the fall of the World Trade Center. This vicious fiction drew the scorn of fact-checkers and social liberals but caused nary a ripple in the Republican field. But, on Saturday night, Trump said something else about 9/11, something so far beyond the pale that conservatives finally rose up in righteous indignation. He claimed that on 9/11 the president of the United States was George W. Bush.

Republicans disagree internally on aspects of Bush’s domestic legacy, but his record on counterterrorism remains a point of unified party doctrine. Bush, they agree, Kept Us Safe. To praise the president who oversaw the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history for preventing domestic terrorism is deeply weird, and the only way this makes any sense is to treat 9/11 as a kind of starting point, for which his predecessor is to blame. (Marco Rubio, rushing to Dubya’s defense at Saturday night’s Republican debate, explained, “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.”) Trump not only pointed out that Bush was president on 9/11 and that the attacks that day count toward his final grade, but he also noted that Bush failed to heed intelligence warnings about the pending attack and that his administration lied to the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Conservatives have always dismissed such notions as far-left conspiracy theorizing, often equating it with the crackpot notion that 9/11 was an inside job. The ensuing freak-out at Trump’s heresy has been comprehensive. “It turns out the front-runner for the GOP nomination is a 9/11 ‘truther’ who believes Bush knew 9/11 was going to happen but did nothing to stop it,” says Marc Thiessen, the columnist and former Bush administration speechwriter. “Moreover, Trump says, Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but lied to the American people to get us into a Middle East war.” Trump is “borrowing language from MoveOn.org and Daily Kos to advance the absurd ‘Bush lied, people died’ Iraq War narrative,” cried National Review’s David French. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol demanded that, even should Trump win the nomination, fellow Republicans refuse to “conscientiously support a man who is willing to say something so irresponsible about something so serious, for the presidency of the United States.”

In fact, Trump has not claimed that Bush had specific knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He said, “George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.” That is correct. Bush was given numerous, detailed warnings that Al Qaeda planned an attack. But the Bush administration had, from the beginning, dismissed fears about terrorism as a Clinton preoccupation. Its neoconservative ideology drove the administration to fixate on state-supported dangers — which is why it turned its attention so quickly to Iraq. The Bush administration ignored pleas by the outgoing Clinton administration to focus on Al Qaeda in 2000, and ignored warnings by the CIA to prepare for an upcoming domestic attack. The Bush administration did not want the 9/11 attacks to occur; it was simply too ideological and incompetent to take responsible steps to prevent them.

It is certainly true that Trump took his attack a step too far when he insisted the Bush administration “knew” there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All of the evidence suggests that the Bush administration, along with intelligence agencies in other countries, believed Saddam Hussein was concealing prohibited weapons. But the evidence is also very clear that the Bush administration manipulated the evidence it had to bolster its case publicly, like police officers framing a suspect they believed to be guilty.

The cover-up was grotesquely crude. Republicans in Congress insisted that the original commission investigating the issue confine itself to faulty intelligence given to the Bush administration and steer clear of manipulation by the Bush administration itself. The report stated this clearly: “Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.” It was not until a subsequent commission that the administration’s culpability was investigated. And that commission, which became known as the “Phase II” report, found that the Bush administration did indeed mislead the public: “[T]he Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

You might think Republicans would have developed a sophisticated response, but they haven’t. Their defense for the last decade has consisted of claiming the Phase I report, which was forbidden from investigating the Bush administration, actually vindicated Bush, and ignoring the existence of the Phase II report. Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial does it again, calling the claim that Bush lied a “conspiracy theory,” which was refuted by — you guessed it — the Phase I report. (“Their report of more than 600 pages concludes that it was the CIA’s ‘own independent judgments — flawed though they were — that led them to conclude Iraq had active WMD programs.’”)

Republicans have walled inconvenient facts about the Bush administration’s security record out of their minds by associating them with crazed conspiracy theorists. It is epistemic closure at work: Criticism of Bush on 9/11 and Iraq intelligence is dismissed because the only people who say it are sources outside the conservative movement, who by definition cannot be trusted. The possibility that the Republican Party itself would nominate a man who endorses these criticisms is horrifying to them. To lose control of the party in such a fashion would be a fate far worse than losing the presidency.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 16, 2016con

February 17, 2016 Posted by | 9-11, Conservatives, Donald Trump, George W Bush | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It’s A Question Of Legitimacy”: Both Democrats And The Media Need To Be Clear About What Is Happening

It was only an hour after reports had confirmed that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dead that Mitch McConnell declared “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Of course that statement completely ignores the fact that almost 66 million people had used their voice to elect President Barack Obama to a four year term back in 2012. But it wasn’t long before people like Sen. Grassley – chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee – and all of the Republican presidential candidates weighed in to agree with McConnell.

As I watched all this unfold on Saturday night, this is the tweet that captured it for me:

The word “before” is carrying a lot of weight in that statement. It wasn’t long before much of the media had bought the underlying premise. Notice the word “technically.”

What this means is that Republicans are not even going to wait and question President Obama’s nominee on the merits. They are directly challenging his legitimacy to nominate anyone. That goes to the heart of a case they have been making for seven years now (starting with the whole “birther movement”). It is what Doug Muder referred to as the Confederate worldview.

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

It is also reminiscent of Grover Norquist’s response back in 2003 when talking about how the GOP would handle a Democratic presidency in the “permanent Republican majority.” He said, “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”

That is what we are seeing played out right now with respect to a nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans are questioning the very legitimacy of our current President to perform his Constitutional duties. That’s because the social order is changing (both in terms of cultural issues and demographics) and, for them, any form of resistance is justified.

Both Democrats and the media need to be clear about what is happening. Regardless of how often Republicans try to don the mantle of defending the Constitution, they are in the midst of attempting to undermine our democratic processes.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 15, 2016

February 17, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Mitch Mc Connell, U. S. Supreme Court, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Base Doesn’t Care About Conservatism”: In The Battle Of Us vs. Them, The Donald Has Been Winning From The Start

I think Lindsey Graham is about to find out that his predictive powers are not better than Bill Kristol’s:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), a supporter of [Jeb] Bush, said of Trump: “This man accused George W. Bush of being a liar and suggested he should be impeached. This man embraces [Russian President Vladimir] Putin as a friend. The market in the Republican primary for people who believe that Putin’s a good guy and W. is a liar is pretty damn small.”

It takes a certain kind of determined myopia not to see in retrospect that George W. Bush was a liar of immense proportions. It’s also extremely difficult to ignore the disastrous consequences of his presidency:

“The war in Iraq has been a disaster,” Trump said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It started the chain of events that leads now to the migration, maybe the destruction of Europe. [Bush] started the war in Iraq. Am I supposed to be a big fan?”

Despite all this, it might not be entirely accurate to say that the base of the GOP agrees with Trump’s assessment of our 43rd president. It’s probably more a matter of them not really caring much one way or the other. They’ve moved on.

I think it’s interesting that the Republican rank-and-file seem impervious to heresies against the Conservative Movement. Trump’s past comments calling for universal health care don’t bother them, nor do they hold his pro-Planned Parenthood funding against him. Was he pro-gay rights and pro-choice in the past? It’s no matter.

He makes a left-wing critique of the Iraq War and President Bush? Apparently, not too many people are offended.

You can go down a growing list. Trump calls for protective tariffs and opposes free trade. He uses eminent domain and strategic bankruptcy to further his business interests. He clearly fakes his piety in an unconvincing and frankly insulting manner. His private life is nearly the opposite of what the family values crowd espouses. He uses expletives and sexual innuendo (who will protect the children?).

What this calls into question is how much the appeal of conservative ideology has ever really explained the cohesiveness of the Republican coalition. Has it always been more a matter of tribalism and a team mentality? Could it be that what unites them is less free enterprise, retro-Christian values and a strong national defense than a shared antipathy for common enemies?

That’s been my working hypothesis for a while now, which is why I thought the Republican Establishment was deluding themselves when they said they’d destroy Trump once they began running ads about his record as anything but a movement conservative.

The people who support Trump are supporting him because he’s the kind of guy who will stand up the president and say that he wasn’t even born here. They don’t care whether he’s an economic protectionist or not. But they damn sure like that he’s willing to tell the Mexican government that he’s going to force them to pay for a Great Wall on the southern border.

In the battle of us vs. them, The Donald has been winning from the start.

Cruz is doing a decent job, too, but he’ll probably never be more than Trump’s caddie.

And, if Cruz does eventually outshine Trump, his appeal will be the exact same. It won’t be his adherence to strict constitutional originalism or his appeal to Christian Dominionists. It will be that Cruz convinces the base that he’ll do a better job than Trump of shattering the liberals.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 15, 2016

February 17, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, George W Bush, Lindsey Graham | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Politics, Power, And Change”: Here’s What You Need To Understand About How Hillary Clinton Views Race

This afternoon, Hillary Clinton will deliver a speech on race in Harlem. There’s a political context here, of course, which is that African American voters are central to both the Feb. 27 South Carolina Democratic primary and the entire campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But when Clinton speaks about race, something important happens: we get a revealing view not just of what she thinks is important, but of how she understands politics, power, and change.

According to guidance distributed by the Clinton campaign, today’s speech is going to cover a lot of policy ground, including criminal justice, education, housing, and economic opportunity. Clinton will also be discussing “systemic racism,” which is a key phrase to keep in mind to understand how she sees race, and how it differs from the way Barack Obama has dealt with racial issues over the past eight years.”

The idea of systemic racism has symbolic weight, but it’s primarily practical. It does speak to the fundamental truth that black people understand and that some whites resist, that racism exists in a thousand places at once, both those we can see and those we overlook. Saying you understand systemic racism is a way of saying that you see the problem as deep, wide, and historically grounded.

But it’s also a way of saying: This is a problem we, and the president him or herself, can actually do something about. If the racism that imposes itself on people’s lives is to be found in systems, then the way you attack it is to change the way those systems operate, through changes in law and policy.

In short — and if you’ll allow me to oversimplify things a bit — when it comes to race, unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton doesn’t care how you feel.

Well of course she cares, but it’s not her primary concern. This is both her weakness and her strength.

Let me start this story in March 2008, when Obama delivered his much-praised speech in Philadelphia on race, after his former pastor Jeremiah Wright became controversial. In the speech you can see the stark difference between Clinton and him, or at least the candidate he was then. While Obama mentions in passing some of the ways racism has been embedded in institutions, most of the speech, and certainly the part people focused on after, was about different people’s perspectives on race. He talked about his white grandparents, noting that even the loving grandmother who largely raised him expressed fear of young black men. He talked about how white people who feel they never benefited from racial privilege can grow resentful of things like affirmative action. He talked about the anger of black people who continue to feel the sting of prejudice.

Like so many of Obama’s speeches in that campaign, it was extraordinarily eloquent and inspiring. It made you feel like no matter who you were, he understood you. Rereading it one can’t help but remember why many Americans went nuts for this guy.

As president, Obama has been extraordinarily cautious talking about racial issues. He obviously understands the way that his political opponents have cultivated racial resentments and used him as the symbol of everything anyone might fear about a time when white privilege is being challenged (regular listeners of conservative talk radio know, for instance, that Obama’s domestic policies are regularly described as “reparations,” wherein white people’s money is being stolen and then showered upon indolent, undeserving minorities). And though you could certainly point to any number of policy initiatives his administration has undertaken that address racial prejudice and its consequences, in his rare public statements on the topic Obama is far more likely to talk about people and their feelings, both black and white, than about the details of policy. It’s clear that he still believes that empathy and understanding are central to bridging the racial divides that his presidency has been unable to improve.

Clinton’s previous remarks on race, on the other hand, are essentially the inverse of Obama’s: some brief mention of values and feelings, quickly giving way to lengthy discussion of policy changes that can be made to address ongoing racial problems. You can see that in a major speech she gave in April about criminal justice reform. Early in the speech she articulated statements of values that link policy with ideas like justice and fairness: “There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.” She then talked about her own work as a young lawyer with the Children’s Defense Fund, but what stands out for me is that her discussion is about power and institutions. “I saw repeatedly how our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power, who are the most vulnerable,” she says, which is a statement about justice but also a way of saying, I understand this system. The speech is heavy with facts and figures, and while there are a few lines about hopes and dreams, it doesn’t address anyone’s feelings about race. Instead, it’s mostly about policy.

Or consider an even more vivid illustration, a fascinating spontaneous discussion she had with some Black Lives Matter activists in August. It may be the single clearest statement you can find illustrating Clinton’s perspective on social and political change as you’ll ever see.

The activists essentially argue to Clinton that symbolism, rhetoric, beliefs, and policy are all intertwined. At one point, Julius Jones says to her, “America’s first drug is free black labor and turning black bodies into profit, and the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system. It’s a similar thread, right? And until someone takes that message and speaks that truth to white people in this country, so that we can actually take on anti-blackness as a founding problem in this country, I don’t believe that there is going to be a solution.” He also wants to know what’s in Clinton’s heart, and how she feels about the mistakes of the 1990s. “What in you,” he asks, “not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say — like, how do you actually feel that’s different than you did before? Like, what were the mistakes? And how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America for a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country?”

Clinton’s response, though she doesn’t put it these terms, is essentially that it’s not about what she feels. Again and again, she comes back to the idea that you need a program, an agenda of specific things government should do:

So, all I’m saying is, your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair. But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, “Here’s what we want done about it,” because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it, who are going to say, “Oh, we get it. We get it. We’re going to be nicer.” Okay? That’s not enough, at least in my book. That’s not how I see politics. So, the consciousness raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical. But now all I’m suggesting is, even for us sinners, find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives. And that’s what I would love to, you know, have your thoughts about, because that’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.

Then Clinton and Jones begin talking quicker, and when at one point Jones characterizes her position as being that “what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts is to come up with a policy change,” Clinton jumps in with this:

No, I’m not talking about — look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So, we can do it one of many ways. You know, you can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.

If I could put her point in terms that are a little more blunt, Clinton is basically saying that symbolism and feelings are all well and good, but they’re really not her concern. What she cares about is institutional power: who it belongs to, how it’s used, and what effects it has. Movement-building and consciousness-raising are not her job. They’re a part of the larger picture and can make her job easier, but her job is to make change within the institutions through which power flows.

You may or may not like this view of what a president does and how a president makes change. You may thirst for someone who can work the levers of power but can also inspire people, make them see things in a new way, offer a transformative vision of the future. But for better or worse, that’s not who Hillary Clinton is.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 16, 2015

February 17, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Hillary Clinton, System Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Unprecedented ‘Precedent'”: What Kind Of Dictator Must Obama Be To Oppose 80 Years Of “Standard Practice”?

How can you tell the seemingly unanimous position of the Republican Party that President Barack Obama should not be permitted to select the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor is motivated by something other than apolitical concern for the republic? You can start by looking at the ways that their main talking point – that such an election-year nomination hasn’t been confirmed in 80 years – is both factually incorrect and more broadly intellectually dishonest and a novel reinterpretation of “precedent.”

Eighty years has become a truly magical number in the day since Scalia shuffled off this mortal coil. “The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year,” Republican Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley said. Standard practice! What kind of dictator must Obama be to oppose 80 years of standard practice? “It has been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in the Republican presidential debate Saturday night; “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz echoed.

Flim-flam and jiggery-pokery.

Just as a factual matter, as has been widely noted, Reagan nominee Anthony Kennedy was (unanimously) confirmed to the court in February 1988 – not only an election year but a year in which Reagan was term-limited and could not run again. So just right off, the talking point is wrong. (Grassley, by the way, broke with his own self-professed “standard practice” and voted to confirm Kennedy.)

But! But! But Kennedy was nominated in 1987, so he doesn’t count, right? When was the last time in history that a president nominated someone for the court in an election year and the Senate confirmed them? That would be Franklin Roosevelt nominating Frank Murphy, then the attorney general, on Jan. 4, 1940, and the Senate confirming him 12 days later. So that was 76 years ago, which is still less than the enchanted “80” benchmark.

So where does the 80-year figure come from? So far as I can tell – through a cursory bit of Googling – it originated with a National Review post from Ed Whelan at 5:32 p.m. yesterday, some minutes after the news of Scalia’s untimely demise started to spread around the country. Points to Whelan for quick research but note how he phrased his item: “It’s been more than 80 years since a Supreme Court justice was confirmed in an election year to a vacancy that arose that year, and there has never been an election-year confirmation that would so dramatically alter the ideological composition of the Court.” He was referring to Benjamin Cardozo, “confirmed in March 1932 to a vacancy that arose in January 1932,” 84 years ago.

Note the rhetorical evolution from Whelan’s careful phrasing (“… in an election year to a vacancy that arose that year”) to the more widely promulgated talking point as expressed by, say, Grassley (“standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during an election year,” period) or Cruz (“80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year”).

Details, details, right? Do they matter? Well, yes, they do. Cruz, Grassley and anyone who repeats the assertion that there’s 80 years of precedent against confirming nominees in an election year is, in fact, wrong.

And the difference is important for a couple of reasons: First, imprecision reflects the questionable logic of the alleged precedent: that Obama’s “lame duck” status – lame duck traditionally means that his successor has been chosen, not that at some point in the future he’ll definitely be out of office – should deprive him and relieve senators of their constitutional duty. How better to justify this notion than by invoking tradition. But this is not a tradition of nonconfirmation in an election year (Kennedy was confirmed) or of presidents not nominating in an election year (Lyndon Johnson nominated Abe Fortas and Homer Thornberry in 1968) or of only confirming in an election year if the nomination came in the previous year (Murphy), but of not confirming in an election year when the vacancy occurred in that year.

That’s a much narrower standard than is being broadly bandied about. But it has to be or else the 80-year “standard practice” becomes less impressive: 76 years, or 48 years or 26 years.

The beauty of 80 years is that it sounds like an awfully big number – saying that the GOP is merely abiding by the “standard practice” of 80 years makes it sound routine, as if this is something that’s come up time and again over eight decades and is a settled matter. But since Cardozo was confirmed this narrowly drawn set of circumstances has arisen … once. Once! One instance in eight decades does not “standard practice” make.

Neither does it make 80 years of precedent. In fact it’s the opposite of precedent: The fact that 84 years ago Cardozo was nominated and confirmed to an opening that arose in an election year is actually precedent for – wait for it – considering an Obama nominee.

So if not respect for venerated precedent, what is going on here? Simple: The GOP neither wants to put another Obama nominee on the court nor allow its ideological balance to tip – especially when there’s a nontrivial chance that a year from now they’ll be able to replace Scalia with someone of like philosophy.

Does anyone think that if Scalia had died in December – before the election year – that the GOP reaction would be at all different? Or that in an alternate reality Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling President Mitt Romney that a Supreme Court nomination won’t be considered because he’s in the last year of his term?

The party is putting governing on hold in the name of political calculation. Republicans should own up to it and drop both the “80-year” talking point and the larger pretense of principle.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, February 14, 2016

February 17, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Mitch Mc Connell, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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