Tag Archives: bush

Ross Perot: Plus ça change…

Early last week, FiveThirtyEight came out with a new episode in its series of documentary-style looks at polling and politicking in elections past. If you’re in need of break between refreshing your poll aggregators, it’s a delightful mix of change of pace from this year’s elections and a curious examination of where this year’s unique character comes from. It seeks to answer one very simple question – what effects did Ross Perot have on US elections?

The bulk of it pulls us back into the 1990s, into a seemingly naïve political climate buoyed between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Center. While securely focused on the 1992 election, it ultimately looks to the similarities between Ross Perot and Trump. It ends ominously on that note, however, as Galen Druke predicts that “Just as Donald Trump did better than Perot, maybe the next charismatic populist will do better than Donald Trump.”

Well, then.

That comparison and warning sent me down a rabbit hole of internet research into not just Ross Perot but the political party he spawned: the Reform Party. If nothing else, it’s deeply entertaining as a distraction from tightening polls. The crown jewel of my fervent self diversion is this early 2000 piece by then Trump ghostwriter Dave Shiflett (this guy) for the American Spectator. In it, he advocates for Trump’s candidacy for the presidential nomination within, you guessed it, the Reform Party.

I can forgive FiveThirtyEight for leaving half the story untold (they have limited time in any case), but this article truly is eye-opening. Trump did not wait for 2016. In 2000, his conspiratorial and aggressive understanding of international relations, his view of himself as un-racist for expecting people of color to be among those fawning over him, and his cartoonish misogyny were all already there, even then.

trump 2000.jpg
(No, seriously.)

Here’s just a few choice bits:

“[Trump’s] uncle, an MIT professor, foresaw the day of miniaturized weapons. ‘One day,’ Mr. Trump quoted him, ‘somebody will be able to detonate a suitcase-sized bomb in Manhattan that will flatten the entire city.’ Thus was born what is perhaps the most mesmerizing chapter in [The America We Deserve]—one in which, among other things, Mr. Trump warns that under his presidency, North Korea could experience some live-ammo discipline.”

“As the embodiment of earthly success, [Trump] is highly admired by lower-middle class Americans, many of them Hispanic and African American, who continue to admire the guys who have done well in the world.”

“[Al] Gore’s embarrassing reliance on high-paid political adviser Naomi Wolf also illustrates another difference with Mr. Trump, who is universally recognized as America’s premier Alpha Male. Mr. Trump knows that one never pays a woman for her conversation, but only for her silence.”

Of course, Trump not only failed to win the general election in 2000, but he fell short of the Reform Party’s nomination, to Patrick Buchanan. Both before and after that third party presidential bid, Buchanan has made a career out of White nationalism and other bigotries somehow stated more blatantly than even Trump cares to. Seemingly in an effort to appease Trump’s purportedly more moderate wing of the Reform Party, Buchanan selected Ezola Foster, a Black woman, as his running mate.

Politics journalist David Neiwert has argued that this contributed to George W. Bush’s contested victory in the election that year by dismantling the main third party contender for Republican-leaning independents motivated by racist and sexist ideas. Neiwert found this choice complaint from a close affiliate of David Duke’s (another familiar character!): “after Buchanan chose a black woman as his veep he [Duke] now thinks that ‘Pat is a moron’ and ‘there is no way we can support him at this point.'” Keen not to miss the bigger picture, Neiwert pointed out that the Democratic ticket had the first Jewish candidate for the vice presidency on it that year and the other main third party candidate was Lebanese-American Ralph Nader. The voting bloc that would congeal into the modern alt-right seemingly had no real choice in 2000 for a presidential ticket of only White , non-Mideastern, non-Jewish men, outside of Bush-Cheney.

The picture Neiwert paints of the ensuing relationship between Republicans and this emerging extreme wing of US conservative politics is strengthened by the ensuing confusion over the 2000 election. As he put it-

“No one from the Bush camp ever denounced the participation of [Stormfront-affiliated White supremacist Don] Black and his crew or even distanced themselves from this bunch, or for that matter any of the thuggery that arose during the post-election drama. Indeed, Bush himself later feted a crew of “Freeper” thugs who had shut down one of the recounts in Florida, while others terrorized his opponent, Al Gore, and his family by staging loud protests outside the Vice President’s residence during the Florida struggle.

“These failures were symptomatic of a campaign that made multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups. These ranged from the neo-Confederates to whom Bush’s campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts continued to make a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.

“The result was that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists came to identify politically with George W. Bush more than any other mainstream Republican politician in memory. This was embodied by the endorsement of Bush’s candidacy by a range of white supremacists, including David Duke, Don Black and Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator.”

You probably can tell the history yourself from there. The 9-11 Attacks only further wear down democratic and procedural defenses against these politics, and before we know it, we’re at the place we are now – with Black churches appearing to have been torched by Trump supporters, more anti-Muslim attacks than ever, and a candidate openly running on a policy platform of ethnic cleansing.

What’s curious within all of this is that Buchanan misread Trump’s and his supporters’ jeers in 2000. The story goes, as The Hill described it, that the Perot, Trump, perhaps in LaRouche-esque sections of the Reform Party weren’t even trending towards fascism by 2000. Those voters supposedly left when their “moderate” candidate – that’s Trump – lost. Buchanan, so the story goes, lost another set that stayed by trying to win those already out the door back. But that’s usually boiled down to a very careful reading of Trump’s insults towards Buchanan at the time – those like “Look, he’s a Hitler lover.” Trump certainly presented them as a critique of Buchanan’s bigotry, but maybe it was intended more as a critique of its European and 20th century qualities, as opposed to an open embrace of rhetorical twists more distinctive to 21st American far-right ultranationalism.

That’s not a mischaracterization of Neiwert’s work, by the way. His description of how quickly Perot’s crypto-populism became lousy with White nationalists comes from a series asking whether the Republican Party after 9-11 was at risk of becoming fascist. His answer, while still under the Bush administration, was a concerned perhaps. Returning to his look at the disintegration of the Reform Party and the 2000 absorption of much of its voting base into the Republican Party, he casually describes the process with what now read as dire warnings.

To be fair, not all of those are his alone. He quotes Robert Paxton’s “The Five Stages of Fascism.” Paxton’s essay reads like Nostradamus for something from 1998, a decade before Sarah Palin let alone Donald Trump. As Paxton described it, one key stage in fascists acquiring power is their capture of a major political party or similar institution. In terms of that,

“Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of the liberal state, whose inadequacies seem to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner. Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, a step that pays handsomely in political power”

Anyone else need a drink?

Between Paxton, others, and his own work, Neiwert creates an image of a typically rural-based political bloc preparing for warfare with an existentially opposed other, often one terrifyingly within the country, if only in small numbers. All of that is familiar to anyone remotely familiar with Republican rhetoric – in both pro-Trump and never Trump circles.

What’s more arresting is his description of why so often it’s rooted in rural hinterlands – because historical fascism often began as an arrangement between gangs and malfeasant landowners. When desperate to break agricultural strikes and either unable or resistant to state involvement, the latter turned to the former.

There is nothing quite analogous within modern US politics, but the closest cousin could arguably be the moderately wealthy, rural-dwelling, elder White voters without college degrees that many have seen as Trump’s core constituency. In the 1990s, their votes likely split between idealistic votes for Perot, pragmatic votes for Republicans, and White nationalist votes for Buchanan. Today they are a consolidated voting bloc – and they are Trump Republicans.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Legacies

Antonin Scalia – the justice who gave us so much unnecessary contempt while handing down dismissive and even capricious decisions – died on Saturday. While many have focused on the astounding kerfuffle that’s developed, in which Senate Republicans apparently are going to avoid confirming a Supreme Court Justice for eleven months, I’m more interested in taking a moment to remember Scalia before his prominence in this “originalist” era begins to gather dust.

Justice Scalia was a man that’s easy to dismiss as a motley of contradictions. He demanded that LGBT people remain a criminalized class in the name of preventing governmental tyranny. He argued that Black people should receive lesser educational opportunities in the name of their own well being. He cheerfully supported the limits to election spending being the size of your donors’ pocketbooks in the name of free speech. Underneath these baffling justifications, so easily torn down – often delightfully by Ruth Bader Ginsburg – is a kind of stunningly consistent judicial logic. His guiding principle seems to have been that the powerful could define how things were and should be, and that he was very glad to hold an appointed life-long position of power.

At times it’s been presented as a bastardization of his own claims to “textualism” that he supported such a deeply anti-democratic view of politics and the world. That of course involves a certain rosey look at the past that Scalia elevated into an all-encompassing justification. The writings he, and for that matter his colleagues on the court, pour over and cite either were written by or derived from the works of slave owners engaged in genocidal campaigns of colonization. Might makes right isn’t that much of an importation really. What set Scalia apart, even from other conservatives on the court, was his dogmatic insistence that the framers were literally never wrong.

Scalia was a product of an often forgotten era – of Reagan’s shining city upon a hill. The 1980s saw the sudden emergence of an almost mythic devotion to a historically murky period, drawing phrases from a 1630 sermon and connecting them to institutions born from a 1787 political convention. Reagan gave a voice to a conservative backlash to what for some was a frightening new world of LGBT liberation and the Civil Rights Movement. It didn’t matter if they were nonsensical appeals to an inconsistent and complex past as long as they served those suddenly on the defensive as a source of comfort. Scalia’s constitutionalism was to some degree little more than an intellectually buttressed version of the same argument from historical authority in the name of authority itself.

The term-less appointment to the Supreme Court let Antonin Scalia sit as a reminder of that time period even while Reagan gave way to Bush, then Clinton, and ultimately Obama. Anthony Kennedy, a centrist alternative put forward after Robert Bork had made it too clear what power for power’s sake looked like, never so fully encapsulated what that Reagan-era moment in history looked like, and has had a judicial career that lived beyond it. Scalia was there alongside him of course, writing more dissents and opinions than almost any other justice in history, but his judicial outlook seemed frozen in time compared to Kennedy’s. At the end of the day, he could only shout at the slow but steady advancement past that Reagan-era reaction or align himself with the positively Macchiavellian rightwing adaptations to that new climate.

Even as people politically opposed to him – again there’s always Ginsberg – mourn him, there is some recognition in liberal circles that what has passed is not just this man but the era that produced him. Far more than former Chief Justice Rehnquist’s passing of his position to current Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia’s death portends a new structural alignment on the court. Any nominee from Obama, even a comparatively centrist one, is going to tip the fragile balance further to the left on most issues.

A Republican blockade against sitting any appointee from the president is the perfect procedural issue to fire up the liberal vote in the 2016 races, and an almost guarantee that another Democratic president would issue their nominations to a more friendly Senate in 2017. Insisting that no one be seated is a complaint with essentially no point, since the anger is that an era is over. Republicans might as well direct those complaints at the demographic shifts in the country, at the transformation of their social wedge issues into liabilities, at the failure of their promised prosperity to manifest for most.

Much like how liberal appointments in the 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s, the growing liberal bloc on the Supreme Court is a reflection of what has followed Reagan – Clinton’s and Obama’s two-term administrations. The Supreme Court serves as a sort of record of what came before, softly echoing the presidency and to a lesser extent congress. Part of what died on Saturday was the tangible impact of Ronald Reagan, and the political party which still holds debates at his presidential library doesn’t seem to be taking it well.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stuff Happens

Trigger warning: gun violence, war, terrorism, islamophobia

By now, Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign has seemingly hit a stumbling block that while not necessarily disqualifying in the Republican Primary, is likely to capsize him in the general 2016 election if he becomes the Republican nominee. If you’re unaware, when asked for his thoughts on the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, he shrugged off the loss of life, saying, “Stuff happens.

At the risk of sounding as oblivious to the recent pain as him, he is technically right. Miseries happen. Tragedies happen. Violent events happen. The issue here though isn’t that though, it’s what he meant by saying that. “Stuff happens” is what people say not to recognize pain and problems but to dismiss them. His implicit argument is that nothing can be done about these types of mass shooting incidents, which happen in this country at nearly a rate of once a day. His calculated political decision not to care about this specific form of violence is disguised by the powerlessness that “stuff happens” implies. He’s making a choice not to care, and presenting it as all he can do.

That’s not how he himself has spoken in the Republican Primary on all forms of violence.

“I don’t know if you remember, Donald- Do you remember the rubble?”

Jeb Bush is entirely capable of caring about the loss of life and the experience of violence – and not just in a standard Republican tone in a hypocritical call for new restrictions on abortion. He can see events of extreme, pseudo-militaristic violence, and say this is unacceptable and demands an organized, society-wide response. What he does is chooses which tragedies speak to him in that way, an indirect way of selecting the type of society he thinks we should live in.

A tragedy that justifies invasions and colonialism-echoing occupations in majority Muslim countries calls for remembering, for recognizing, for sacralizing to achieve those ends. A tragedy like a shooting by an able-bodied, able-minded, straight, cisgender, White man within the US has no parallel usefulness to Jeb Bush within the Republican Primary. If anything, it’s a liability in a worldview that depends on finding the origins of violence (and hence, reasons to strike back) as coming from other groups and striking with different means. What “stuff happens” underscores is not just a callousness to those affected by this most recent incident of gun violence or one of the scores of similar tragedies in these recent years, but a dehumanizing way of approaching any such loss of life, whether disregarded as yet another lamentable thing in the world or hallowed.

“Stuff happens” out of the mouth of Jeb Bush or anyone else who has spoken about 9/11 and other tragedies in such mournful terms makes clear that the speaker asks themselves a question after every catastrophe: what can I gain from this? Their sorrow is not a fully authentic emotional response, but a carefully chosen one, selected because of what it could bring about in the world.

Credit to the featured image goes to here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Presidential paradox

TW: indefinite detention, Guantánamo

One of the newer filings from a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Ahmed Adnan Ajam, is honestly quite fascinating, and I recommend reading the Lawfare post about it, even if it’s quite brief.

Personally, I found it particularly enlightening as to the paradox the Obama administration has had to govern through. Elected in part to repair the extensive damage created by the Bush administration, we all expect him to use his presidential powers in something like a sweeping way, considering the widespread problems Bush left behind. That said, allowing the presidency’s powers to expand in the course of that would be to ignore the mechanics of what went wrong during the Bush years. Considering the since-2010 gerrymandered House of Representatives and catastrophically dysfunctional Senate, Obama has needed to, in isolation, stretch the limits of his office in order to shrink the limits of his office. Yeah, it strikes me as an oxymoron too.


(A comparison of Guantánamo detainees suggests that none of them are ever leaving the detention center, from here.)

The greatest disappointment of his governance, I’d have to say, is how he’s negotiated those odd, dual constraints. It’s easy and common to say that Obama is merely an extension of Bush, given his expansion of the drone strikes and continuation of mass surveillance systems, but I think that misses how complex the problem is. His administration appears to be hoping for detainees in Guantánamo to essentially sue Congress on their behalf. He’s fitting both of those oppositional standards, but not in unison on any given issue. His administration seems to have a talent at limiting its powers where the costs of that are high and failing to hold itself back when the impacts are quite large.

That seems to be how repairing Bush’s impact has failed – in that Obama has either overstepped or failed to lift a finger.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are charters the new mortgage market?

In the wake of the 2012 elections in the US, much of the media has been grappling with two major issues that must be understood: how did Obama and the Democrats win and where do the Republicans go from here? There’s a variety of answers to both, but there’s two key explanations that are striking if you pair them side by side.

Among the apparent causes for various progressive victories is that Republicans and conservatives overestimated their chance at winning, and didn’t invest their electoral resources very intelligently as a result. As part of analyzing that, in a recent interview with author Chrystia Freeland in the Washington Post, Ezra Klein chillingly notes:

“These folks, too, are purportedly very data focused, very good at assimilating new information. So I find it genuinely scary that neither Romney nor his super-rich backers had any idea he was going to lose. All the polls, all the models, all the betting markets said he was likely to lose. How did a group of people who, in their jobs, have to be willing to read and respond to disappointing data convince themselves to ignore every piece of data we had?”

Ms Freeland was promoting her new worrisome book.

So there’s the first worrisome problem right off the bat: there is a class of people in US society who are at once highly valued as financial analysts or something similar and yet, many of them do not seem to be able to analyze things, financially or otherwise. This is part of how the markets could so idiotically pour investment into patently toxic mortgages (causing the most recent recession), clearly overvalued homes (causing the housing bubble), and obviously worthless internet stock (causing the one before that). A sizable percentage of the financier class who are supposed to be intelligently running things seem to be doing anything but making the correct calls. That same poor ability to analyze reality or predict consequences reared its head politically on election day, when that group overwhelmingly anticipated a Romney victory, in spite of all evidence otherwise.

Chrystia Freeland eerily replies that it’s worse than that. Large parts of that socio-economic class aren’t merely convinced of their awesomeness at their jobs, but also believe that the perks of their position are more than personal but part of the greater good. She explains-

“They’re convinced that it just so happens that their self-interest coincides perfectly with the collective interest. That’s where you get this idea of the ‘job creators’. The view is that to seek a low tax environment or less regulation, that’s not special pleading for yourself, it’s not transactional politics. It’s that this set of rules is the most conducive to economic growth for everybody. It will grow the pie. Now, it also happens to be an incredibly convenient way of thinking. If you’ve developed an ideology that what’s good for you personally also happens to be good for everyone else, that’s quite wonderful because there’s no moral tension.”

So, if we’re going to keep the tab running here’s the situation we’re in. There’s a group of powerful people. Many of them are making decisions which notably have negative long term repercussions. But it’s alright, supposedly, because they should know what they’re doing. They’re the group of powerful people after all. Likewise, if their short term decisions result in personal gain, that’s only because their personal gain conveniently always coincides with the best of all possible worlds. Really, they’re doing this for everyone.

Now, momentarily put on hold that idea of social organization which has led us to where we are today politically, economically, and socially. It’s worth asking what the Republican Party’s various members are proposing as the road forward after their obvious loss earlier this month. Their answers obviously vary, but one of the major candidates for the next presidential run, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, has been running for years now on education reform. Doesn’t that sound bipartisan, forward-thinking, and nice?

But like almost everything proposed by Republicans the more you look the gift horse in the mouth, the more like a nightmarish ghoul it looks. As Reuters has reported, the fundamental mechanics of what he’s done in Florida and is now proposing on a national-scale look suspiciously similar to the disastrous No Child Left Behind policies of the early Bush years. Likewise, the improvement in test schools looks to mostly have been a short term fluke due to rising property tax returns from ballooning real estate sales, after which the state’s schools were left high and dry (and test scores began to drop again as funding declined). The only people who seem to have done well under these circumstances are the small number of for-profit charters who turned tidy profits under the new policies. But don’t worry, Jeb Bush is still insisted that we can apply this law on a national scale with no serious negative impacts.

In short, the new way forward for the Republican Party looks remarkably similar to the exact same organizational philosophy that’s impoverished this country by locking up investment in foolish gamble after foolish gamble (whether purely business or political in nature). But it made someone at the top money, so it’s still worth pursuing. It’s worth noting that similar policies are being implemented in Michigan. I only hope the United States as a whole figures out how this story ends before Jeb Bush can decide that for us.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,