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“Most Republicans Still Haven’t Learned Anything”: Jeb Bush And The Republican Party’s Bizarre 9/11 Blind Spot

Donald Trump is more of a reality show contestant engaged in the simulacrum of a presidential candidacy than an actual candidate for president. But this comes with an advantage: He can tell the truths that are inconvenient to Republican dogma.

This was evident many times during the Republican debate earlier this week. Showing both a talent for getting under the skin of Jeb Bush and a firmer grasp of the fundamentals crucial to winning elections, Trump observed in an exchange with Bush that his brother’s presidency had been such a “disaster” that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have won on the Republican ticket in 2008. Bush rose to his brother’s defense in a highly revealing way. “You know what? As it relates to my brother there’s one thing I know for sure,” Bush asserted. “He kept us safe. You remember the — the rubble? You remember the fire fighter with his arms around him? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism, and he did keep us safe.”

Bush’s defense of his brother is so obviously self-refuting it would be funny if the subject wasn’t so serious. Bush’s invocation of the ruins of the World Trade Center while claiming that his brother “kept us safe” is reminiscent of Alan Greenspan’s legendary argument that “with notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global ‘invisible hand’ has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.” With the notably rare exception of the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, George W. Bush kept us safe!

In the GOP’s warped view of its national security record, you would think that the Supreme Court had allowed a fair recount to proceed in Florida, Al Gore had assumed the White House, then was replaced by the manly action hero George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. It’s not even true that there were no further terrorist attacks after 9/11 — in fact, there were anthrax attacks after 9/11 that helped contribute to a climate of fear in which too many civil liberties were dissolved.

Nor is it true that the 9/11 attacks were a simple matter of force majeure, beyond the responsibility of the White House. When Bush assumed office, he and his foreign policy team were convinced that the Clinton administration placed too much emphasis on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Most of Bush’s foreign policy team believed that rogue states, not stateless terrorists, were the biggest threat to American security. Presented with a memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” during a month-long vacation a little more than a month before 9/11, Bush dismissively responded, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

To be clear, I’m not arguing that Bush could easily have prevented the 9/11 attacks by taking Islamic terrorism more seriously. The attacks may well have happened with Al Gore in the White House. But he wasn’t merely a helpless bystander. His choices made stopping the 9/11 attacks less likely — and they happened. He cannot escape some measure of responsibility for them.

Worse, the Bush administration’s fallacy that states, not stateless terrorists, were the fundamental threat to global security persisted after 9/11, leading to the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Some of the Republican candidates — not only Trump but Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and John Kasich — have argued that the decision to invade Iraq, so immensely costly in human lives and resources, was a horrible mistake.

However, none of these critics of the war are going to be the Republican nominee. And most Republicans, as we could see at the debates, still haven’t learned anything. “We lost friends [on 9/11.] We went to the funerals,” blustered Christ Christie. “And I will tell you that what those people wanted and what they deserved was for America to answer back against what had been done to them.” The answer, apparently, was to attack a random country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks, because this would accomplish…well, it never made any sense.

The invasion of Iraq, as Paul attempted to explain, was counterproductive, creating anarchic contexts in which brutal terrorists have flourished. The defenders of Bush’s foreign policy — particularly Marco Rubio — attempted to blame this on that meddling Barack Obama for pulling troops out of Iraq. War cannot fail for mainstream Republicans — it can only be failed by not becoming perpetual. This isn’t so much a policy doctrine as a mediocre 80s action movie. And Republicans will go to any length to defend it, even if it means wiping 9/11 from Bush’s record.

Did Bush “keep us safe?” Absolutely not. Indeed, one would have to go back to James Buchanan, if not James Madison, to find a president with a worse record for protecting American civilians. What’s scary is that the most plausible candidates to head the Republican ticket in 2016 think that Bush’s security policies were a smashing success.


By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, September 18, 2015

September 19, 2015 Posted by | 911, Jeb Bush, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Gun Laws And What The Second Amendment Intended”: When The NRA Didn’t Support Everything That Goes ‘Bang’!

As school shootings erupt with sickening regularity, Americans once again are debating gun laws. Quickly talk turns to the Second Amendment.

But what does it mean? History offers some surprises: It turns out in each era, the meaning is set not by some pristine constitutional text, but by the push and pull, the rough and tumble of public debate and political activism. And gun rights have always coexisted with responsibility.

At 27 words long, the provision is the shortest sentence in the U.S. Constitution. It reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Modern readers squint at its stray commas and confusing wording. The framers believed in freedom to punctuate.

It turns out that to the framers, the amendment principally focused on those “well regulated militias.” These militias were not like anything we know now: Every adult man (eventually, every white man) served through their entire lifetime. They were actually required to own a gun, and bring it from home.

Think of the minutemen at Lexington and Concord, who did battle with the British army. These squads of citizen soldiers were seen as a bulwark against tyranny. When the Constitution was being debated, many Americans feared the new central government could crush the 13 state militias. Hence, the Second Amendment. It protected an individual right – to fulfill the public responsibility of militia service.

What about today’s gun-rights debates? Surprisingly, there is not a single word about an individual right to a gun for self-defense in the notes from the Constitutional Convention; nor with scattered exceptions in the transcripts of the ratification debates in the states; nor on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as it marked up the Second Amendment, where every single speaker talked about the militia. James Madison’s original proposal even included a conscientious objector clause: “No person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

To be clear, there were plenty of guns in the founding era. Americans felt they had the right to protect themselves, especially in the home, a right passed down from England through common law. But there were plenty of gun laws, too. Boston made it illegal to keep a loaded gun in a home, due to safety concerns. Laws governed the location of guns and gunpowder storage. New York, Boston and all cities in Pennsylvania prohibited the firing of guns within city limits. States imposed curbs on gun ownership. People deemed dangerous were barred from owning weapons. Pennsylvania disarmed Tory sympathizers.

That balance continued throughout our history, even in the Wild West. A historic photo of Dodge City, Kansas, the legendary frontier town, shows a sign planted in the middle of its main street: “The Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited.” Few thought the Constitution had much to say about it.

Through much of history, this balance evoked little controversy. Even the National Rifle Association embraced it. Today the NRA is known for harsh anti-government rhetoric, but it was started to train former Union soldiers in marksmanship. In the 1930s, the group testified for the first federal gun law. In 1968, its American Rifleman magazine told its readers the NRA “does not necessarily approve of everything that goes ‘Bang!’”

Of course, over the past three decades, the NRA shifted sharply. At the group’s 1977 annual meeting, still remembered as the “Revolt at Cincinnati,” moderate leaders were voted out and the organization was recast as a constitutional crusade.

Together with even more intense advocates, such as the Second Amendment Foundation, of Bellevue, Washington, they are quick to decry any gun laws as an assault on a core, sacred constitutional right. They waged a relentless constitutional campaign to change the way we see the amendment.

Remarkably, the first time the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right to gun ownership was in 2008. The decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, rang loudly. But a close read shows that Justice Antonin Scalia and his colleagues make the familiar point that gun rights and responsibilities go together. The court said that, like all constitutional rights, there could be limits. “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” Scalia wrote.

That’s how judges have interpreted this constitutional right. Dozens of courts have examined gun laws since 2008. Overwhelmingly they have upheld them, despite the claims of gun-rights attorneys. Yes, there is an individual right to gun ownership — but with rights come responsibilities. Society, too, has a right to safety, and there is a compelling public interest in laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

To be sure, the final scope of the constitutional provision has not been determined. The Supreme Court has not spoken again. It is infallible because it is final, as Justice Robert Jackson once wrote, not final because it is infallible. But the greatest controversy revolves around issues such as the rules for carrying a gun outside the home.

So what does the Second Amendment really mean? From the debate over the Constitution to today’s gun fights, the answer is really up to us, to the people. That answer changes over time. But one thing has remained surprisingly constant: Americans cherish freedom, but believe passionately that rights demand responsibilities. It’s hard to think of an area where that insight matters more than when it comes to ensuring that lethal weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.


By: Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; The National Memo, July 14, 2014

July 15, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“James Madison For Dummies”: An Obstructionist, Compromised Reputation Among The GOP

The effort to defund Obamacare, culminating in Sen. Ted Cruz’s marathon speech on the Senate floor, has been symbolic in ways its sponsors did not intend.

This, in the end, was the strategy: For procedural reasons, senators needed to vote against a House spending bill defunding Obamacare — in order to force a government shutdown, in order to cut off federal spending unrelated to Obamacare, in order to trigger a wave of public revulsion against Obamacare, in order to force President Obama to trade away his signature legislative accomplishment. And any elected Republican, by the way, who questions the practicality of this approach is a quisling.

It is the fullest expression (so far) of the view of leadership held by the new, anti-establishment conservative establishment: Exploit a legitimate populist cause to demand a counterproductive tactic in an insufferable tone, then use the inevitable failure to discredit opponents in an intra-party struggle. More Pickett’s charges, please. They are emotionally satisfying (and good for fundraising). And the carnage may produce new generals, who are more favorable to future Pickett’s charges.

In the process, the GOP is made to look unserious and incapable of governing. But that is beside the point. The advocates of defunding have bigger ideological fish to fry. They argue that, over the decades, Republican compromisers have been complicit in producing a federal government so overgrown that our constitutional order has collapsed beneath it. “I don’t think what Washington needs,” argues Cruz, “is more compromise.”

In this case, the evidence of GOP compromise is not the acceptance of Obamacare. It is insufficient enthusiasm for an absurd procedural maneuver. But never mind. The real target is the idea of compromise itself, along with all who deal, settle or blink.

In the middle of this unfolding Republican debate comes a timely National Affairs article by Jonathan Rauch. It is titled “Rescuing Compromise,” but it might well have been called “James Madison for Dummies.”

Rauch argues that Madison had two purposes in mind as he designed the Constitution. The first was to set faction against faction as a brake on change and ambition — a role that tea-party leaders have fully embraced. Madison’s second purpose, however, was “to build constant adjustment into the system itself, by requiring constant negotiation among shifting constellations of actors.”

Following the Articles of Confederation, America’s founders wanted a more energetic government. But they made action contingent upon bargaining among the branches of government and within them. “Compromise, then, is not merely a necessary evil,” argues Rauch, “it is a positive good, a balance wheel that keeps government moving forward instead of toppling.”

Compromise, of course, can have good or bad outcomes. But an ideological opposition to the idea of compromise removes an essential cog in the machinery of the constitutional order. “At the end of the day,” says Rauch, “the Madisonian framework asks not that participants like compromising but that they do it — and, above all, that they recognize the legitimacy of a system that makes them do it.”

We are seeing that an anti-compromise ideology can make for bad politics. In our system, Obamacare will not be overturned by one house of Congress. A tea-party shutdown strategy — if implemented — would make securing the other house and the presidency less likely for Republicans. And the political energy consumed by Cruz and crew has not been available to promote incremental limits on Obamacare that might have aided GOP political prospects.

But the problems with this view run deeper. A belief that compromise is always favorable to liberalism is historically ill-informed. Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform and Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform were the results of bipartisan compromise. So were Clinton’s four budgets that kept federal spending below 20 percent of GDP. And addressing the long-term debt crisis — really a health entitlement crisis — will not be possible without a series of difficult political compromises on benefit restructuring and revenues.

It is a revealing irony that the harshest critics of compromise should call themselves constitutional conservatives. The Constitution itself resulted from an extraordinary series of compromises. And it created the system of government that presupposes the same spirit. “Compromise,” says Rauch, “is the most essential principle of our constitutional system. Those who hammer out painful deals perform the hardest and, often, highest work of politics; they deserve, in general, respect for their willingness to constructively advance their ideals, not condemnation for treachery.”

But such condemnation, it seems, is an easier path to attention.


By: Michael Gerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 27, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obstructing The Democratic Process”: Gun Control Filibuster Proves The Senate Is Broken

I’ve been shaking my Boggle box to come up with some colorful adjectives to add to the din of words criticizing the Senate for its failure pass the universal background check amendment in the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.

I didn’t get any words as good as egregious or atrocious. Boggle’s 16 cube tray didn’t give me enough letters to produce words as bumptious as those. But I did get the word Fed, and that reminded me of James Madison’s Federalist 10, a paper he wrote in 1787 to argue that “one of the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union is its tendency to break and control the violence of factions.”

Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse …adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He argued that majority rule would “secure the public good from the danger of factions and preserve the spirit and the form of popular government.”

Sadly, the outcome of this vote is just another example how the filibuster has eroded any and all ability of the Senate to secure the public good. The 46 Senators who voted against cloture put their self-interest ahead of public safety, regardless of the fact that the bill closed all the loopholes in the background check process, a process that today lets 40 percent of guns purchased go unchecked.

The filibuster came into being in 1815. Between 1815 and 1975, Senators were required to stand in the chamber and speak until a 2/3’s vote invoked cloture. It was exercised infrequently because the costs of using it were higher. Two-thirds of Senators had to be present and voting in the chamber, and 3/5’s sworn. In short, they had to sit and listen to the speech until they fell asleep, wore out, or simply couldn’t take it anymore.

In 1975, the Democratic controlled senate strengthened the filibuster. Senators didn’t have to be present to use it or engage in endless debate in the chamber. To invoke cloture, the number of required votes was reduced to 3/5s, or 60 out of 100.

Why did Democrats make these changes? They wanted to make sure that if they lost control of the chamber in some future election, they’d have a reliable way to way to block the Republican party.

The Democrats made a bad move. Since 1975, both parties have abused the filibuster to such an extent that today the Senate shows little productivity, and it’s a rare occurrence that bills do pass. Under majority rule, S.649 passed 54-46, but that doesn’t count because every bill now requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass, a requirement that flies in the face of majority rule.

Just the threat of a filibuster stops legislation in its tracks, and special interests work this to their advantage. The gun lobby compelled those 46 Senators to filibuster the bill by threatening to pull support from their 2014 reelection campaigns.

However, it’s not just the gun lobby influencing senators to filibuster bills. Over the past several years, many powerful liberal and conservative interest groups have helped orchestrate filibusters of multiple good and broadly beneficial legislative proposals.

The filibuster slaps popular government in the face. It has to go. It does nothing but obstruct the democratic process, and it isn’t needed to give the minority party a stronger voice in the chamber. Even if we got rid of it, each Senator still has plenty of rules and procedures at his or her disposal to slow debate.

How we get rid of it, however, is a discussion I’ll reserve for a future column, because we can’t expect the very people who benefit from the filibuster to support eliminating it. One thing’s for sure: If the status quo persists, we won’t see any reasonable gun control laws in this geological age.


By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, April 19, 2013

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Tyranny Of Small States”: Did Our Founders’ Lack Of Foresight Doom Gun Control?

When the Senate takes up the bill to expand background checks for gun purchases this week, we will hear plenty rationalizations for opposing it similar to the one offered recently by Heidi Heitkamp, the newly elected Democrat from North Dakota: “In our part of the country, [gun control] isn’t an issue. This is a way of life. This is how people feel, and it is extraordinarily difficult to explain that, especially to grieving parents.” Heitkamp’s bottom line: “I’m going to represent my state.”

That state has a population that did not crack 700,000 as of last year. In other words, that state is smaller than cities like Columbus, Fort Worth and Charlotte, and is only slightly larger than El Paso, Memphis and Nashville. North Dakota is separate from South Dakota only because Republicans who dominated the Constitutional Convention in 1889 thought it better to carve two Republican-leaning states out of Dakota Territory (railroad politics also played a role). And yet, North Dakota will have as much say this week as California, Texas, New York and Florida—how those 699,000 people “feel” in towns like Minot and Williston and Fargo will matter as much as how 38 million people “feel” in towns like Los Angeles and San Francisco and San Jose. Small, rural states will not only make it much harder to expand background checks to the huge gun shows where a big share of firearms are purchased, they may succeed in passing an amendment that would allow states with lax regulations for concealed-carry to trump stricter rules elsewhere—that is, to allow someone who got a concealed-carry permit in Wyoming (population 576,000, smaller than Portland, Oregon) to carry a concealed weapon in New York, where it’s much tougher to get a permit.

The undemocratic nature of the upper chamber of our legislative branch of government has been noted many times—it is, as the New York Times observed in an in-depth piece just a few months ago, “in contention for the least democratic legislative chamber” in the world, with the 38 million people who live in the 22 smallest states represented by 44 senators, while 38 million Californians are represented by two. But it is worth dwelling on this feature of our government again this week, because there are few issues where it makes itself felt as strongly as on guns. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat, helped carry Obamacare to passage, but here he is on the background check bill: “I don’t support the bill, but I support open debate. Montanans are opposed to this bill—by a very large margin.” Montana’s population? Just over a million—a veritable giant by contrast with North Dakota, but also quite a bit smaller than Dallas, San Antonio and San Diego. And here’s Mark Begich shortly before he became one of two Democrats, along with Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, to decline to even allow the expanded background-check bill to come up for debate: In Alaska, he said, “We love our guns.” That’s nice! In Columbus, which has more people than Alaska’s 731,000, they love their Buckeyes, but that doesn’t mean they get to set national policy around them.

Bring this up, and the guardians of the wide-open spaces throw the Constitution in your face. But it’s worth recalling just how haphazardly this feature of our government came about, that it was not handed down from the mountaintop by James Madison. In fact, Madison, the father of the Constitution, vehemently opposed this design for the Senate when it was being debated at the Constitutional Convention. As a representative of one of the big states, Virginia, he was in favor of—gasp—apportioning votes in both legislative chambers by population. This fact is often lost on the small-state defenders, as I learned in the onslaught I received when I brought this matter up in 2009: They assume that because Madison supported one of the Senate’s initial undemocratic features—having its members selected indirectly, by state legislatures, in order to keep the Senate at a remove from the tempestuous masses—he must have supported undemocratic apportionment. He did not. He drafted the “Virginia Plan,” which called for two chambers, with members allotted by state population. Countering this was the “New Jersey Plan,” which called for only a single chamber with equal representation for each state (remember, this was pre-Short Hills Mall, and New Jersey was at the time a relatively small state.)

The solution, as any good civics student knows, was the Connecticut Compromise, which, as proposed by Connecticut’s delegates to the convention, created two chambers, the lower one apportioned by population, the upper one not. It was also hailed as the “Great Compromise,” which in hindsight makes it look like the first shining example of our political culture’s tendency to hail as achievements any deal that represents a middle point, no matter how shoddy its logic or deleterious its consequences. It’s also awfully ironic that it should be the Connecticut Compromise that may well keep the Senate from responding seriously to the worst act of mass violence ever perpetrated in Connecticut.

What to do? When, some time ago, I put this whole issue to Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat whose retirement led to Heitkamp’s ascension, he was taken aback: “This was the grand bargain that was struck when the Founding Fathers determined the structure and form of the United States Congress… Are you proposing changing the Constitution?”

Maybe I am. At the time of the not-so-Great Compromise, the largest state, Virginia, was 11 times bigger than the smallest, Delaware. The ratio between California and Wyoming is now 66 to 1, yet they have the same sway in the Senate. Could the Founders have envisioned that? And are we OK with that? If so, just don’t be surprised if the gun bill is blocked or seriously weakened this week despite polls showing overwhelming support for expanded background checks. Undemocratic institutions produce undemocratic results. Mr. Madison could tell you that.


By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, April 16, 2013

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Democracy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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