If the title hasn't given it away already, what follows is an exercise in naked partisanship. Normally I pride myself on my evenhandedness, but there comes a time when you have to give up the ghost, and the ghost now is gone. I feel I have to join, as Brad Delong would say, the "ranks of the shrill." I do not do this out of allegiance to the Republicans' chief opponents; I am not and have never been a registered Democrat. I'm old enough to have voted in three presidential elections, and in only one of those I voted for a Democrat--Clinton in '96. My other two votes were for third party candidates (and in 2000 I lived in Massachusetts, so anyone about to yelp that my Nader vote handed the country to Bush can shove it.) The Democratic Party has exhibited, in the years I've been paying attention, an almost ceaseless ability to disappoint me. Its representatives are too often spineless, too often lukewarm facismiles of Republicans. They fundraise whorishly, and the only backhanded compliment that can be paid to their venal pursuit of money is that they aren't very good at it (the Republicans are much better). Most of all the Democratic Party's willful ignorance--its mendacity and prevarication--in the face of Rwandan genocide will stain forever its claim to being the party of internationalism. On a final, personal note, back when I was more of a working journalist I interviewed John Kerry and found him, frankly, annoying. Nevertheless, absent some unforeseen circumstance (for instance, my getting a lobotomy) I plan to vote for him in the fall.
I'll vote for Kerry because for all that is wrong with the Democrats, the Republican Party is something else altogether. What was once the Party of Lincoln has become the party of obstreperous children, alternately pouting and bullying, dismissive of complicated problems that aren't easily resolved and fixated instead on the simplistic and the irrelevant. Abraham Lincoln grabbed a backward portion of our country and tried to drag it by force into the future, but the future is not where today's Republican Party--or at least the faction of the party that sets its agenda--finds its strength or inspiration. The Republican Party of the early twenty-first century is history's hostage but not its student; it panders to a past whose details are often wrong or invented; opposes science and secularism; longs for a world of absolutist morality, and wages a cultural war of attrition against any behavior that falls outside its narrow conception of what is decent.
Thus we have a party whose domestic policies, rather than meaningfully addressing issues like health care or unemployment, include a bigoted constitutional amendment to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry (the sort of law in existence today in only the most benighted of nations); another consitutional amendment that would prohibit the destruction of an American flag (an ordinance, again, that is most often the hallmark of totalitarian, idolatrous and theocratic regimes); and a desire to return prayer to schools while at the same time expelling science. We have a party whose romance for the Confederacy betrays both an appalling insensitivity to African-Americans and an ignorance of what the Confederacy actually was.
This is not the party of William Weld and John DiIulio, nor of Herbert Stein or William F. Buckley Jr.--a party of honorable and intelligent conservatism that believed in nuance and give-and-take. It is instead the party of Tom Delay and Ann Coulter, of character assassination first and engagement with the issues second. This is a party determined to paint Hilary Clinton--who, let's be honest, is at most a center-left liberal--as some sort of raging communist. It is the party that houses Sean Hannity, a man who equates liberalism with "terrorism" and "despotism." It is the party of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, whose hissing opinions often contradict the facts uncovered by its excellent reporters, and whose "journalism" throughout the Clinton years consisted of dark insinuation that the president and his wife had murdered a number of people.
And yet, come election time, it is a party that lacks even the courage of these convictions. Look at the list of speakers scheduled to talk at the Republican National Convention; what you will find is a festival of moderates: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Guiliani, Michael Bloomberg. All urban Republicans, all pro-choice, most in favor of gay rights, a number of them in favor of gun control. And none with any influence whatsoever on the national Republican Party; they disagree outright with the leadership on most social issues. So why are they there? Why does the Convention not include remarks from Trent Lott or Tom DeLay? Where is Dick Armey? Where is the vicious homophobia of Rick Santorum, or the evangelism of Pat "Gays and feminists caused 9/11" Robertson? The Democrats gave Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton their moments before the cameras; both are quite extreme in their own way, and both, for better or worse, have almost no say in their party's platform. But the Republicans' extremists control their party, and are nevertheless hustled into the closet when the time comes for a parade in front of the American people.
This false face of moderation is one of two grand lies perpetuated by the national GOP. The second lie is victimhood, capital-V Victimhood, forever, victimhood. The party of big money and big business laments endlessly that it is marginalized and persecuted, that the government works continuously against it, that the press distorts and ignores its positions. Only sheer repetition could make this scenario plausible. Never mentioned is that the party of big business accounts for most of the money pumped into the government, or that it owns most of the press, or that there is an explicitly and rabidly conservative news network but no explicitly rabid and liberal one. No matter: the facts should never be allowed to obstruct the narriative. Thus a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert says with a straight face, "it's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government." Thus in the New York Times, that ultra-liberal newspaper that lets him trumpet his opinions twice a week, David Brooks makes the bizarre and completely unsubstantiated assertion that anyone opposed to neoconservative policies is actually anti-Semitic. Thus Ann Coulter writes a best-selling book, heavily laden with name-calling, which accuses liberals of always calling Republicans names.
And I can't take it anymore. It is a silly cliché to say that all politicians lie, and it is naïve to be outraged when elected officials act in their own interests first and in the interests of those they represent second. It can be no other way--a politician can accomplish nothing without first being elected, and so on the list of priorities being elected must always rise to the top. But there are, within this depressing calculus, varying degrees of behavior, varying degrees to which the truth gets manipulated, and we are governed now by people who lie as a first or second rather than a last resort. Our presidential campaigns, which have for a long time been shallow contests in misdirection, have careened into newer and lower depravities. An honest analysis of this situation would find no one innocent, but would also apportion blame far more to one side than the other. Yes, both parties have poisoned the barrel, but it is the Republicans who consistently scrape against its bottom. Willie Horton. Liberals hating the pledge of allegiance. Liberals coddling crime. Fuzzy math. Inventing the Internet. All are actors in this theater of the irrelevant, all have made our electoral dialogue that much dumber, and all have emerged from the Grand Old Party's machinery of falsehood.
Anyone who cares to look can find at least a hundred reasons not to return the Republican Party to power in November. In the interest of brevity, and just as a start, I'm going to list eight. Bear in mind, when reading, all that I'm leaving out: the war in Iraq; the abandonment of Afghanistan; the support of Ahmad Chalabi, who was an Iranian spy; the destruction of Valerie Plame, who was an American one; "Curveball"; the storming of the Dade County courthouse; the chicanery surrounding the costs of the Medicare bill; the attempt to further consolidate media ownership; the comprehensive rollback of environmental regulations; the unjust imprisonment of immigrants and American citizens; the legal limbo of Guantanamo Bay; the farming out of torture to Syrian surrogates; the casual lies about previous statements (Donald Rumsfeld insisting he never said Saddam was an imminent threat, the Administration saying the "Mission Accomplished" banner wasn't its idea). I am anything but an idealist, but even I expect something better from my government than the disdain these people have heaped on us. It's time for them to go.
1. The "Southern Strategy" and the Urban/Rural Divide
Barry Goldwater was the first to give it a whirl, but it was Richard Nixon who really made it work. In retrospect, it was simple enough: emphasize the cultural differences between the North and South, use the rhetoric of "states' rights" to veil an ugly appeal to race prejudice, and watch the former Confederacy defect to the Grand Old Party. This was in 1968, which political scientists now call a "re-aligning" year, because its presidential campaign brought the South into the Republican fold, and showed Abraham Lincoln's legacy the door. The South has stayed Republican ever since, and the Republican Party--for all its contempt for "class warfare"--has stayed afloat through polarization and divisiveness.
When Ronald Reagan kicked off his general election campaign in 1980, he did so by travelling to Philadelphia, Mississippi--site of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers in the 1960s--and giving a speech in which he praised states' rights. Some critics of Reagan see this as a sign of his racism, a charge that I think is both inaccurate and unfair. I don't think Reagan was racist, and I know he was a sincere believer in the more benign definition of states' rights, which is the idea of a weaker federal government and increased local control. But I also think that Reagan and his handlers were well aware of the symbolism in his speech and its location, and I think they were willing to let the ambiguity of his meaning play on the fears and prejudices of his audience. In that, we have a fine example of the southern strategy.
Today, fortunately, most of the more naked appeals to race prejudice are gone* (especially since Jesse Helms retired--after graciously accepting the thanks of a woman, on Larry King Live, who called to commend him for all he'd done to "help keep down the niggers"). But race-baiting has been replaced by an equally effective strategy of cultural warfare. Now Republicans emphasize the "differences" between urban and rural America. The rural residents are Good Country People who believe in God, Nation, Hard Work and NASCAR, while the urbanites are latte-swilling members of a Jewish/communist/homosexual/hate-America conspiracy.
You can find this nonsense in the infantile and sociologically incompetent writings of David Brooks; in the deranged ravings of Ann Coulter (who not only "loves Kansas City" but wishes that Timothy McVeigh had blown up the New York Times headuarters instead of the Oklahoma Federal Building); and in the cheesy "family values" speeches of countless conservatives.
What the folk of Red America who buy into this don't realize is that they've been given a bait-and-switch. The Bible is not coming back to school. Abortion is not going away. Affirmative action will not be permanently undone. And despite the railing of Senator Rick Santorum, gays, sooner or later, will be able to get married (and the sky will not fall when that happens). In the meantime, the Republicans will yell, and scream, and quietly cut the taxes of the decadent wealthy urbanites they've convinced Middle America to hate.
* Republican race-baiting is not altogether extinct. In 2000, Bush loyalists in South Carolina started a whispering campaign against John McCain, suggesting that McCain had fathered an illegitimate daughter with a black prostitute. The "evidence" for this slander was McCain's daughter Bridget, whom the Senator and his wife had adopted from a Bangladeshi orphanage. Eleven years old at the time of the 2000 campaign, Bridget's dark skin, visible as she waved from stages with the rest of her family at events across South Carolina, became the stimulus for a host of vile lies. In the days before the primary Bush supporters push-polled likely Republican voters, asking if McCain's black baby would influence their vote. If that isn't gutter politics, nothing is.
2. The Tax Cut
It's because the surplus is too big! No, it's because there is no surplus, and we need to stimulate the economy! No, it's because terrorists have attacked and we need to restore confidence! No, it's because it cures acne and impotence!
Rarely has one law had so many justifications, none of them true. Almost every competent and honest economist that has looked at the Bush tax cut has come to the conclusion that it is a way to move a massive amount of wealth to the very rich from everyone else. Ronald Reagan did the same thing, but he at least had the decency to be honest about it. This current crop of Republicans can't quite bring themselves to match his candor. The tax cut, we are told, is for "working Americans." Getting rid of the "death tax" will "save family farms."
Let's cut through the bullshit: the tax cut was about people already drowning in money getting a whole lot more of it. When House Speaker Dennis Hastert held a press conference in support of it, he had to get lobbyists to dress up in hard hats to create a "working class" audience. (A memo about the rally from the National Manufacturer's Association read: "the Speaker's office was very clear in saying that they do not need people in suits. If people want to participate -- AND WE DO NEED BODIES -- they must be DRESSED DOWN, appear to be REAL WORKER types, etc.") As for the "death" tax: no one has ever lost a family farm because of the estate tax. Never ever. Can I be clearer about this? The people who say otherwise are liars.
The ideological foundation of the tax cut lies in supply-side economics, the charlatan subdiscipline of economics that casts aside the free market and chooses instead to believe in the free lunch. Supply-siders argue that if you cut taxes enough, investment will rise and the government will still have plenty of revenue to function--that you will, in other words, get something for nothing. There is no reason not to believe in supply-side economics; the only two places it fails are in theory and in practice. Yet despite its inconsistency with all other economic logic and its failure of every empirical test, supply-side lives on. Its most ardent proponent remains Jude Wanniski, the former editorial writer of the Wall Street Journal who laid out its logic in a book he modestly titled The Way the World Works.
Wanniski has a talent for avoiding those advances in economic theory (read: all of them) that undercut his own ideas. He still believes, for instance, that gold is the only valid measure of wealth. This leads him in turn to other, weirder beliefs. Consider a juvenile tirade he launched against Paul Krugman, which ended when he summed up America's problems as follows: "The poor have become fat and happy, the rich impoverished. This is why we are in the fix we are in. Everyone wants to be poor, because it has so many more advantages!"
Would you buy an economic policy from that man? The White House has. Actually, supply-side is less an economic policy than it is a religion, where the answer is always the same regardless of the question. Cut taxes. If the surplus is too high or too low, if job performance is weak or strong, cut taxes. Like snake oil from the back of the wagon, a tax cut is the tonic the nation requires. We have the cure, just name your disease. "Nothing is more important in a time of war," Tom Delay said after 9/11, "than cutting taxes." Have we ever cut taxes during a time of war? No. Does the strategy seem to be working out well? Absolutely not. But again--we are dealing here with children, and childhood is the kingdom where facts can be pushed aside, where temper tantrums can replace rational thought, and where things are just because we want them to be.
3. Dick Cheney
I'm not even sure I can be serious about this one. Originally sold as the steady hand in a team that would "restore dignity and honor to the White House" (remember that promise?), Cheney has instead become a leering caricature of himself, a Strangelovian zombie-warrior who transitions seamlessly between his roles as President, dark puppet master, minion of Satan, and dour old white guy. His heart beats once every seven minutes, he's spent three of the last four years in an undisclosed location, and when he emerges he makes statements that defy all logic and empirical evidence. Dick Cheney thinks deficits don't matter; Dick Cheney says conservation has no role in public policy; Dick Cheney sees nothing wrong with letting people from Enron write our national energy strategy; Dick Cheney is the last person on earth who thinks the Iraqis attacked us on 9/11. A walking symbol of war profiteering and corporate malfeasance, he remains bound up with Halliburton, a company guilty of voluminous "accounting irregularities" while he was its CEO. Halliburton landed all manner of lucrative contracts as a result of the Iraq war and then--not satisfied with regular government largesse--proceeded to defraud the military at seemingly every opportunity.
No portrait of Cheney would be complete without mention of his firebreathing wife, a shrewish culture warrior determined that U.S. students should learn nothing more controversial than "America rocks!" and convinced that college exists to churn out robotic adherents to her own jingoistic brand of patriotism. In the aftermath of 9/11, her American Council of Trustees and Alumni released a strange report saying that the "weak link in the war on terrorism" was the nation's professors (as opposed to, say, its utterly incompetent intelligence agencies). The report documented 117 instances of "unpatriotic" rhetoric from our colleges; examples include a professor who said "ignorance breeds hate", and another who said Osama bin Laden should be tried for crimes against humanity in an international court. Subversion! Insubordination! Off with their heads! I think the Cheneys should relocate immediately to Iraq, where he can drive a truck for Halliburton and she can craft their new educational curriculum.
4. George W. Bush
In July, shortly after his overlong and self-serving memoir was published, Bill Clinton went on Larry King Live. A caller--clearly a fan--phoned in and asked why he wouldn't be John Kerry's running mate. This was Clinton's response:
There's a conflict of opinion. The law says -- the 22nd amendment says that the president can only be elected twice or if you succeed as vice president you can only serve if you serve like a day more than 18 months or day more than 2 years, then you can only be elected once.
So arguably, a former president could become vice president. However, I disagree with that for the following reason. It's an elemental principle of constitutional construction that you should treat every part of the constitution consistent with every other part. The part that gives you the qualifications for president and vice president early on in the constitution says that basically the vice president, the qualifications for vice president are the same as those for president. So I think a reasonable reading is that the 22nd amendment modified the original provision and that a former president can't run for vice president. So I don't think that will happen.
Stop for a minute. Imagine that it's 2012 and George W. Bush, now four years out of the White House, is on Larry King and has been asked a similar question. Can even the most ardent Republican argue that his answer would be remotely as literate as Clinton's? Does Bush ever think about constitutional construction? Does he even know what the 22nd Amendment is? Or would he break into a half grin, look warily at the camera, look warily at Larry King, and then mumble something about Laura killing him if he ever got into another campaign?
Have we ever had a duller and more duplicitous President? A man less knowledgeable and more obviously disinterested in the workings of government? In a deft trick of rhetoric, Bush passes off his disdain for policy as a sign of his down-to-earth, to-hell-with-the-eggheads persona, but if there's one thing George W. Bush is less likely to be than a policy wonk, it's a blue-collar everyman. It's hard to imagine a man less in tune with what everyday people actually endure, and yet so insistent he's a regular guy. Ronald Reagan was dumb as a stump, but at least he grew up in a small town and worked for a living part of his life. John F. Kennedy never worked for a living but also never pretended otherwise. Not so George W. Bush, he of the frat-boy smirk and the affected strut, who portrays himself as a working class hero, thinking that because he wears boot-cut jeans and likes to "clear brush" on his "ranch" (which he purchased in 1999 as preparation for his campaign) he somehow isn't a child of absurd privilege.
Let's run down the life and times of "Texas" George. Son of blueblood aristocracy, his grandfather was a wealthy Connecticutt Senator and his father was a congressman, a CIA director, a Vice-President and a President. None of that stopped W., when he decided to run for President, from calling himself a "Washington outsider" and saying (in an outright lie) that he'd never lived in Washington in his life.
He grew up rough and tumble, spending exactly one year in a public high school before being whisked off for a career of mediocrity in Andover Academy (where he was head cheerleader) and then to more mediocrity as a legacy at Yale. A proponent of the war in Vietnam, he did his part by getting moved to the front of the line for a spot in the Texas Air National Guard. In the Guard he ignored direct orders to show up for duty, skipped a physical and was barred from flying, and finally just disappeared. Somewhere in here he also developed a bad drinking habit and got arrested for drunk driving.
After military service and a stint at Harvard (where, the campaign biographies breathlessly tell us, he wore his cowboy boots to class) it was time for baptism in the brutal but meritocratic free enterprise system. Using money from his grandmother and his father's friends, he founded Arbusto, an oil company that generated little oil and no profits, but did serve as a nice tax shelter for his Dad's pals. In 1982 he changed Arbusto's name to Bush Exploration Oil, but the company continued to ride the edge of bankruptcy while his Dad's buddies bailed it out. Bush Oil later merged with Spectrum 7, which then merged with Harken Energy, which then spiralled into insolvency, although not before Bush did some insider trades and sold off his stock for $850,000.
The $850,000 went toward paying down his debts from buying a two-percent share in the Texas Rangers. Yes, two percent. Bush did not own the Rangers; he was a figurehead. (A figurehead who had his own baseball cards made. What kind of loser does that?) The Rangers, also swashbuckling market capitalists, got the state of Texas and city of Arlington to hand them free land and build them a new stadium. After Bush was elected governor, his partners increased his share in it before they bought him out--essentially skirting the law and giving a massive donation to an elected representative.
And then all his rich friends--not least among them Enron's Ken Lay--poured money into his run for the White House. He lost the popular vote and quite possibly the electoral one, but governs as though he has an unprecedented mandate. To summarize: George W. Bush, who passes himself off as an entrepreneur and Texas everyman, is a New England blueblood who went to an elite Northeastern prep school and two New England Ivy League universities. He ducked out of military service and may well have gone AWOL. He failed consistently in business but was bailed out consistently by his parents' friends. He never owned a baseball team but pretended he did. He sings the praises of the free market but his baseball team's major accomplishment was lobbying for government money and public subsidies. He calls for a national work ethic but has a mystifying gap in his CV where he doesn't seem to have been working at all--and he has spent an unprecedented amount of his presidency on vacation. He pays lip service to education but by his own admission doesn't like to read. He talks about family values but raised daughters who act like drunken harlots. He mocks people who think social security is a "federal program." He doesn't know what "sovereignty" means (see http://kontraband.com/show/show.asp?ID=1525) He calls Jesus Christ his personal hero but ardently supports the death penalty (one suspects he and JC feel differently on that topic). He can't pronounce "nuclear" but really likes the idea of it.
Let's face it: our President is a spoiled chump, and we have no right to be disappointed in him. No, he's not much good at governing, but he's never been much good at anything. We knew--or should've known--and we made him President anyway.
5. The Impeachment
Did we really have nothing better to do in the 1990s? Fueled by Rush Limbaugh, the American Spectator magazine, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and an assortment of other crackpots and loons, our fine Congress plunged the nation into a Constitutional crisis because President Clinton got a blowjob and lied about it.
If the impeachment served any good purpose, it was to reveal the boundless hypocrisy of the Republicans and their media outlets. Ostensibly the guardians of law, order, and family values, they showed themselves to be just as devoid of ethics as anyone they were chasing. Ken Starr's office spent $48 million and regularly broke the law by leaking grand jury information to the media. Starr also refused to take a leave of absence from his firm, Kirkland and Ellis, when he was appointed Independent Counsel, even though his firm was representing Paula Jones.
Rush Limbaugh railed against the President's immorality, lack of respect for the law, and inabilty to control himself. Rush Limbaugh is addicted to illegal drugs, which he had his maid score for him because he didn't have the guts to go get them himself.
R. Emmet Tyrell Jr., editor of the American Spectator, more than once accused the President (wrongly) of not paying his fair share in income taxes; meanwhile Tyrell used his magazine's tax-exempt funding to help pay for his house, his apartment, his club memberships and his frequent flights to Europe, where he vacationed with convicted cocaine smuggler Taki Theodoacopulus.
New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who had already earned himself the nicknames "Senator Sleaze" and "Senator Shakedown," led the Senate's fruitless investigation into Whitewater. D'Amato, who refused to make public any of the proceedings of the Senate Ethics Committee's massive investigation into his own shady activities, had no problem demanding "full disclosure" from the White House. D'Amato had also been involved in a Long Island land deal that looked a lot like Whitewater.
In Congress, the impeachment was overseen by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), whose own eight-year affair had ruined another woman's marriage. Hyde brushed this off as a "youthful indiscretion"; it happened when he was in his forties. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) also led calls for Clinton's head; he once called the president a "scumbag." Burton advocated the death penalty for drug dealers and helped push mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealing through Congress. He steadfastly supported mandatory minimums until his son was arrested--twice--for possession with intent to distribute. At that point Burton forgot about law and order and got his son a polite slap on the wrist. To be clear, I'm talking about Burton's "real" son. He also has an illegitimate son from a long-term affair.
Bob Dole. Newt Gingrich. Bob Livingston. All moralizing impeachment supporters; all adulterers. John Fund, the Wall Street Journal editorial writer who crusaded for Clinton's impeachment, got himself into a weird love triangle with a woman and her daughter, and after impregnating the daughter helped her get an abortion. And let's not forget Bob Barr, another Bible-thumping impeacher. Barr's second wife was his secretary; he had her unknowingly arrange his trysts with his mistress, who later became his third wife. This was after he encouraged the second wife to get an abortion. But Bob Barr never committed perjury! At his divorce proceedings, confronted with repeated questions about the abortion and his affair, he simply refused to answer.
And how many criminals were put away as a result of this circus? Zero. With the exception of Webster Hubbell, who was convicted for an embezzlement he'd committed before coming to Washington, no Clinton official was ever convicted of anything. Why not? Because they didn't commit any crimes. Whitewater was just a land deal. Travelgate was a clumsy but not illegal personnel move. Vincent Foster was clinically depressed. Bill Clinton was horny.
Just for fun, let's compare Clinton's administration to Reagan's. In eight years of Reagan rule, 32 officials were convicted of felonies. Three of these were overturned on appeal, but over 30 more Reagan officials resigned or were fired following charges of legal or ethical misconduct. And Caspar Weinberger, Reagan's defense secretary, was indicted on five counts but pardoned by George H.W. Bush before he could face trial. Bush also pardoned Elliot Abrams, Reagan's assistant Secretary of State, and Robert MacFarlane, his National Security Advisor, before they could face charges. In all, over 130 Reagan officials were indicted, convicted or investigated. Strange that we never hear about that on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.
6. Stalling the 9/11 Commission
Republicans like to blame 9/11 on Bill Clinton (Republicans like to blame everything on Bill Clinton) but Clinton happily turned everything he had over to 9/11 investigators, and willingly sat for extended interviews with them under oath. Our fearless leaders in the White House--including our "War President"--did something a bit different.
Inquiry of any sort, the Administration made clear, would not be acceptable unless it conformed to strict parameters. In the days immediately following 9/11, this seemed to mean that any explanation other than that the hijackers had been sent by the Fallen One, the Devil Himself, would be considered anti-American.* After comedian Bill Maher made an admittedly foolish wisecrack on his show and lost his job as a result, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said this at a press conference: "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remark like that." Flesicher's statement, which is easy to construe as an attempt to chill open discussion of 9/11, was excised from the official White House web-site transcript of the press conference. When reporters noticed its absence, the Administration attributed it to a "transcription error," but didn't fix it for days. Orwell, anyone?
As for figuring out what had happened on 9/11, the Administration first said it didn't want any investigation at all, either by Congress or an independent commission. Both Bush and Cheney said an investigation would hurt the War on Terror (apparently it would be detrimental to the war effort know how the attack against us was planned and executed.)
This didn't wash with survivors and victims' families, who made clear that only an independent commission would do. At that point the Administration said it would support a Congressional inquiry. This position didn't last long either. In November 2002 Bush signed legislation creating the 9/11 commission, and appointed Henry Kissinger, of all people, to lead it. Kissinger--an accused war criminal, known liar, and uber-secretive consultant--soon resigned, partly due to loud protests and partly because he didn't want to comply with conflict of interest laws that would have required him to divulge his confidential client list. Bush replaced him with former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, and then gave the 9/11 Commission a budget of $3 million; by way of comparison, the Republicans spent $50 million investigating Monica Lewinsky and the other real-and-imagined improprieties of Bill Clinton. Of course, fellatio with an intern is by any logic more important than a devastating attack on America that killed 3,000 people. The White House rebuffed Kean's attempts to get more money, although Congress finally gave it to him.
The White House then stalled the commission, refused to turn over documents related to Saudi Arabia, and finally--after all the delays--refused to extend the commission an extra two months for its investigation (the Administration later backed down).
It gets worse. By February of 2004 the commission had been trying for a year without success to get access to 360 of the White House's Presidential Daily Briefs. The Administration granted access to 24 of them, then said only four commission members could read them. One member was allowed to read all 360, but forbidden to talk about them to other members. That same month, Bush and Cheney said they would only testify before the Commission for an hour, only testify together (together?), and only in the Oval Office. Condoleeza Rice outright refused to testify (she, too, later backed down).
Clinton, meanwhile, had granted the Commission full access to his papers in the National Archives. But the Bush Administration obstructed the Commission here as well, releasing only a quarter of the 11,000 Clinton-era documents the Commission had requested. When Bush and Cheney finally testified (for just over three hours) they did so without being under oath and without being tape-recorded. Commissioner members were searched before they entered the Oval Office, and their notebooks were confiscated and reviewed before they left.
As for the man responsible for 9/11, the Amdinistration has chosen to quietly forget him. Since the beginning of 2003, Bush has mentioned Osama bin Laden's name ten times, six of which were in response to a direct question. On four other occasions Bush was asked about bin Laden but managed to answer without using his name. None of these instances involved a lengthy or substantive discussion of bin Laden; in the same period he mentioned Saddam Hussein by name more than 300 times. In a news conference in March of 2003, when CNN reporter Kelly Wallace asked Bush why he discussed bin laden so infrequently, the President rambled a bit and then had this to say:
I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you... I truly am not that concerned about him.
Well, I've got to be honest too. Considering that Bush's Administration regularly initiates dubious (and suspiciously timed) terror alerts based on threats from bin Laden's organization, it's a little disconcerting that the President pays the man no mind. He certainly seems to want the rest of us to worry about Osama. Why doesn't he worry about him?
* Republicans were also quick, in the aftermath of 9/11, to accuse anyone who associated the attack with American foreign policy of being in the "blame America" crowd. By this definition, America-bashers would include Susan Sontag, Oliver Stone, neoconservative Reagan-worshipping scholar Derek Leebaert, and the former CIA operative Anonymous, who has written two coldly pragmatic books of realpolitik about terrorists and their hatred of America. Anonymous says that American foreign policy is largely to blame for the rise of Al Quaeda, and he calls for both strategic disengagement from the Middle East and a "savage" war against terrorism. What a liberal wussy! He definitely hates America. Also, the only people who ever explicity "blamed America" for 9/11 were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who said 9/11 was the result of America's turning away from God and embracing gays, feminists and the ACLU. Thanks, guys. Way to think it through.
7. The "Patriotism" Lie
How long are we going to have to listen to Republians who didn't go to war calling Democrats who did wimps? Ronald Reagan spent his time in World War II making movies, which didn't stop him from later telling Yitshak Shamir and Simon Wisenthal that he'd helped liberate the Nazi death camps (or mystifyingly blaming Democrats in Congress after he bollocksed up the mission to Beirut). Richard Nixon managed to miss out on combat but lambasted decorated World War II bombardier George McGovern for his "cowardice" in not supporting the war in Vietnam.
Should we go on? Cheney. Perle. Wolfowitz. Somehow they all had other things to do while the country waged wars they supported. Cheney got a draft deferment (one of his five) because his first child was born nine months and two days after the Selective Service Administration publicly revoked its policy of not drafting childless husbands. John Ashcroft received seven draft deferments. In 2002 Saxby Chambliss (also no military service--four deferments and a "football injury") unseated Max Cleland (who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam) from a Georgia Senate seat by running an ad that didn't just call Cleland weak on terrorism, but accused him of being a terrorist. A picture of Cleland was shown, and then Osama bin Laden's face was superimposed over it. Tasteful, no?
And of course there's our fearless leader, George W. Bush, whose entire service seems to have involved getting a physical. This has always been an uncomfortable aspect of W's past, but it has become more so this year since he's chosen to make national security (and his hawkish stance on it) a centerpiece of the presidential campaign, and since John Kerry happens to be a decorated war veteran. The Bush White House (which has also, by the way, whacked a number of Veterans' Benefits in the last few years) has responded to this dilemma by sliming Kerry as a criminal and liar.
Anyone who was paying attention could see it coming. In December of 2003 the Financial Times quoted senior Republicans saying, "By the time the White House finishes with Kerry, no one will know what side of the war (Vietnam) he fought on." Eight months later the attack is on. And coming primarily from a GOP front group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which presents itself as a group of aw-shucks God-and-Country old soldiers who're just determined to set the record straight. SBVT is bankrolled largely by John Perry, a wealthy Republican operative, friend of Karl Rove, and generous donor to Bush's campaigns, and coordinated by Merrie Spaeth, a Republican PR executive in Houston who served as Ken Starr's flack during the impeachment process. The group's main charges--among them that Kerry faked his wounds, never came under enemy fire, and murdered Vietnamese civilians--are documented in TV commercials and in a book called Unfit for Command.
Unfit for Command was written by John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi. O'Neill is a former Swift Boat captain and, perhaps more importantly, a creature of Richard Nixon's propaganda machine. On his return from Vietnam O'Neill was tapped by the Nixon Administration to act, in the words of Chuck Colson, as a "counterfoil" to Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War. After debating Kerry on the Dick Cavett show in 1971 (a debate arranged by the Nixon White House) he went to law school, clerked for William Rehnquist, and then became a practicing attorney and active Republican. He has had an axe to grind with Kerry for over thirty years; on the Kerry issue, his own PR advisor once described him as sounding like a "crazed extremist."
But "crazed extremist," is probably a better label for his co-author. Jerome Corsi has a PhD from Harvard. He is also a homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic--well, he hates just about everyone. He has called Muslims "ragheads"; described Islam as "worthless, dangerous, Satanic"; said Hilary Clinton is a "lesbo"; accused John Kerry of secretly practicing Judaism (presumably this was an insult); and labelled the Democratic Party the "Sodomizer Protection Association of America."
Unsurprisingly, most of the Swift Boat Veterans' claims fall apart under any sort of scrutiny, as do scurrilous Republican charges about how Kerry "repeatedly voted against funds to supply our troops with the best equipment." This canard, when chased back to its source, refers to a bloated 1991 spending bill that was so laden with pork that it was opposed not just by Kerry but also by the then-defense secretary--none other than Dick Cheney.
Cheney and Bush supported Vietnam but didn't go. Kerry went, developed doubts, and came home a protester. This, apparently, is the height of anti-Americanism, which is why Tom Delay ripped into Kerry for it in 2003. "If we had had the leadership of a George W. Bush in those days," Delay said, "we probably would not have lost that war." And why was DeLay at home during Vietnam? Here's the explanation he gave back in 1988: "So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks."
Now that's convincing. This might be a good time to note that you can be patriotic without being belligerent, and that there's nothing "tough" about having other people do your fighting for you. It would also be a good place to say that the events of 35 years ago really shouldn't play a role anywhere near as large as they do in today's campaign, since we have problems more pressing than Vietnamese communism (for instance, Iraqi insurgency). Nevertheless, it was the Republicans who chose to play the patriotism card, and no matter what sort of trash they truck out, they cannot obscure the fact that John Kerry was, in fact, on a Navy boat on a river in Vietnam--even his enemies acknowledge that. Where was George? Ostensibly he was serving in the Air National Guard, but why then can't anyone seem to remember him being there?
Despite the many connections between the Bush campaign and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Bush Administration continues to deny any links to the organization. Maybe that's true. But certainly the President can forgive people for wondering; this wouldn't be the first time he let other people go into the trenches for him.
8. There Is No Number 8
By now do you really need a number 8? If you do, fine. I'll take a page from the Republican playbook: a vote for George W. Bush is a vote for Osama bin Laden. And Saddam Hussein. And rickets. And Satan. Like, triple-Satan. Could you live with yourself if you voted for a triple-Satan? I didn't think so.