Thursday, September 17, 2015

"He Kept Us Safe": The Rovian Lie that JEB! Must Forever Cling To

by Nomad

During the Republican debate, JEB! unintentionally revealed his own seemingly insurmountable dilemma of trying to scrub his brother's dismal record.

Tabloid Politics

The agonizingly- immature GOP debates predictably boiled down into an oily smelly sludge, with candidates making ignorant claims about Planned Parenthood and "baby parts", about Kim Davis' right to ignore her oath of office, and about the long-disproved link between autism and vaccinations.
In every respect, it was tabloid politics. 

CNN, which hosted the debates, over-packaged the event in the most surreal way too. The eye-roller opening sounded like a trailer for a World Wrestling Smackdown event or a cheesy film trailer from the 1980s. 
And of course, there was something for Left to enjoy too. The personal attacks.

If I had a favorite moment then it must have come when Donald Trump backed away from earlier remarks about the only female candidate, Carly Fiorina.. and her face.

After his Rolling Stone interview, Trump had attempted to make the totally insincere claim that he had not meant to insult Florina's appearance. During the debate, he pushed that unbelievable defense past the breaking point and said that she had "a beautiful face and that she was "a beautiful woman." 

Let's be a little more honest than Trump, here. She is not a beauty and there's no reason- except for sexism- that this should even be a part of the political debate. None of the male candidates are being critiqued on their beauty. 

All in all, it is great news for Democrats looking to pick up the women's vote. In the end, both candidates are unqualified to be president.
One other particular back-and-forth caught my attention.

JEB! in The Shadow of Karl Rove

 Under attack from Trump, JEB! evoked the record of his brother, President George W. Bush.
“You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe. I don’t know if you remember, Donald. You remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around it? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism and he did keep us safe.”
While it might sound like a debate ploy cooked up by Bush's team, the "he kept us safe" meme has been a talking point for some time. It's one of those things that Republicans say over and over and hope voters will assume it must be true. It was really picked up after the Boston bombing in order to slam President Obama.

Keeping Americans Safe?
But when you think of what JEB! is claiming, it's really quite absurd.
Is JEB! now attempting to reference the September 11 attacks as an example of how safe George W. Bush kept the American public?
Failing to anticipate the bloodiest terrorist attack in American history is not keeping America safe

This is the one thing JEB! knows for sure? 

Only the most naive die-hard Republican could support JEB!'s bombastic statement without a shudder. By now most of us have realized- if we didn't know it while it was happening- that, in a variety of ways, the Bush administration fumbled the ball both before and after September 2001. 

The Safe Lie

Conor Frıedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, dissected this assertion in detail back in 2013. He cited not only the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon but also the still-unsolved anthrax attacks which killed five people and that injured between 22 and 68 people.

One of the candidates in 2015, New York Governor George E. Pataki, was actually one of the targets of an anthrax attack. He and his staff were forced to abandon their offices when tests found anthrax spores in an area within his office. 

And there were many more successful acts of terrorism against Americans during the Bush presidency. 
Bush was president when Hesham Mohamed Hadayet killed two and wounded four at an LAX ticket counter; when the Beltway snipers killed 10 people; when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar injured six driving his SUV into a crowd; and when Naveed Afzal Haq killed one woman and shot five others in Seattle.
Wikipedia offers a more or less complete list of the attacks. Admittedly those are only the "successful' incidents, we will probably never have a truly complete picture of the ones that were thwarted. Nevertheless, it takes a very active imagination to believe that Bush or Cheney kept anybody safe. 

Frıedersdorf also points out that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, all "based on mistaken intelligence," cost more American lives than the September attacks. 
Almost 5,000 American troops were killed in Iraq. Tens of thousands more were wounded, many seriously. Bush did not keep them safe, by virtue of sending them to fight an unnecessary war. Even if you think that the war was necessary, he didn't keep them as safe as he could have, due to his administration's shocking negligence preparing for the conflict.
While it is true that soldiers in a war zone take extreme risks and absolute safety is an impossibility, there are precautions any conscientious leader should consider to minimize the risks. The Bush administration considered this a low priority. 

At one point, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, came under fire (so to speak) from disgruntled U.S. soldiers who complained about being sent into a war zone without the proper equipment or protection. In 2006, Rumsfeld resigned- or was pushed out- after becoming such a liability to the Bush administration.

Frıedersdorf concludes:
George W. Bush failed to keep us safe, partly because he happened to be president when al-Qaeda succeeded in perpetrating a major attack, partly because various other attacks happened during his tenure, and most unforgivably because of his reductionism and hubris, pursuing a needless war of choice on false pretenses and executing that war poorly for years on end, in part because he elevated loyalty to his immediate underlings above having competent help.

A World Turned Upside Down

With something so demonstrably false, why would JEB! even dare to apply this defense? What does it show us about JEB! and his character?

If nothing else, he use of this talking point shows us how little he cares for the truth. It should have been considered an insult to intelligence the viewer. It should have been enough to raise whistles and boos. And yet, the audience and the moderators simply let it slip by. (Even Trump's reply was uncharacteristically low-key.)

Back in 2007, The UK Guardian wrote up a piece about the manipulation of the American public by its politicians. 
Effective techniques tend to work their magic at a subconscious level. They bypass our rational mind by arousing emotional imagery or phrasing hence Bush's use of firefighters and rubble. 
The more shocking or wild the rhetoric, the more likely it has been purposely designed to make you not think.
Anne Coulter has pushed this technique to its limits.

Another technique which Karl Rove and spin doctors have used successfully has been the reversal of meanings. 
Thus, Fox News calls itself "fair and balanced," and Karl Rove and his acolytes turn their opponents' strongest traits into their achilles' heels, using insinuations and lies to portray opponents' achievements as phoney.
But, as Bush at the debate proved, this technique works in the opposite direction too. It can take the politician's weakest traits and make them into positives. It can take a president's abject failure to combat terrorism, and poorly-planned and poorly executed war plan and make it into a national security success. Simply by saying a short but memorable phrase over and over. Damn the evidence.

Eventually, the warping of reality is complete. Suddenly, like last night, we find ourselves in a world turned upside down where everything said is the reverse of what happened and what is true. 

Republican Voter Susceptibility to Lies

But how could an audience- whom we may assume are not complete zombies- sit and accept this lie? Is there not one person in that crowd who had the strength of character to say "Hold on there.."
Apparently not. 
"The American public," the article points out, "has proven remarkably susceptible to the manipulation of truth, which increasingly dominates the country's political discourse.

That fact that nobody rejected the JEB! premise reveals why the Republican penchant for dishonesty is so damaging to the public discussion. 

In that very short exchange of remarks between two third-rate politicians we saw the serious problem the Republican party has. 
In short, its failure to appreciate reality. 
The establishment Republicans like JEB! might be slugging it out, in slow motion, with loud mouths and upstarts like Donald Trump but in the end, both of them are living in an imaginary world. A world in which failure is success and history can be written by repeating the same lies over and over.

Like a contagion, this willingness to accept what is so clearly untrue has infected all who support the GOP. Part of it is denial and another part is that news organizations operate on 24/7 schedule to reinforce that narrative. 
As the Guardian article notes:
Politicians will respect, rather than manipulate, reality only if the public cares about the truth and punishes politicians when it catches them in deliberate deception. And the public should care about the truth because deception misleads people in choosing their representatives, distorts policy choices, undermines accountability, and destroys trust in democracy.
Looking over the Republican line-up, and listening to the nonsense in the debates, the American voter  has every right to feel despair. The shame is that there is not an intelligent (or sane) opposition party left in American politics. And in a two-party system, that is really something we should worry instead of cheering for "our team."

The Republicans, lost in their false history and exhaustively manipulated reality, have destroyed whatever remained of the public trust.