Tag Archives: george w 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.

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The invisible racist

TW: racism, classism

Earlier today, Brittney Cooper published a thoughtful criticism of the way the Romney family was insulated from criticism about race, and in fact, Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor and television show host, was put on the spot to apologize for a segment she oversaw that poked fun at one of Romney’s son’s recent adoption of a Black child. It’s well worth the read, but at its core was a particularly enlightening comparison:

This faux-outrage on the right about MHP’s racism and insensitivity obscures exactly this set of truths about the right’s shoddy record on race. That both Mitt Romney and Phil Robertson have and love black grandbabies should remind us that racism is not primarily about individual attitudes. White folks can love individual black people and still build a world that is inhospitable to black folks. In fact, individual and exceptional black achievers are necessary to maintain the lie of racial progress. Their presence has very little to do with systemic change, though.

Phil Robertson (the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family who was called out for his heterosexist and racist comments) and Mitt Romney? To quote Pia Glenn on Romney’s new grandson: “One of these things is not like the others.” No, it’s not, and that’s the entire point of Cooper’s comparison. More of her readers rightfully can interpret Robertson’s actions and statements as racist, but Romney is a little bit harder for some to grasp their heads around.

Writing about this is tricky, because it’s actually not that Romney is more wealthy or socially powerful, so much as that Robertsons willingly set the markers of their wealth and similar lifestyle aside in the name of reality television. Even if it’s all an illusion though, the Robertsons are easier for many White people to mentally cast as racists compared to the Romneys who are whatever the US’s equivalent of the British “posh” is.

That’s a divide that has many outcomes. There hasn’t been an outcry over, for example, the Wall Street Journal publishing a wistful look back at the WASP dominance that once was, complete with half-century stale stereotypes of Irish Catholics as lecherous and a carefully unspecified non-WASP group of bankers as “greedy pigs” (golly gee, what could that mean?). Discontent with equating (perceived) moral failings with ethnic statues, the article likewise insists that corruption was non-existent during the days of WASP dominance. Given that according to its author, conservative writer Joseph Epstein, the Bush political dynasty “lost” its WASP status between George H W Bush and his son, it seems like corruption or failure disqualifies you from being a WASP, so as to keep the ethnic reputation intact.

(This article, the above image it contains, and millions of people around the world would disagree.)

That same sort of fence-post moving seems to be at play in the reasons why Epstein and the Wall Street Journal didn’t come under fire for quite literally implying that things were better under codified legal dominance by not only White people, but a very specific brand of White people. A few places passed around the article as an amusing demonstration of confusion and rudeness, but most carefully sidestepped labeling Epstein, his editors, or the publisher anything like racist. One article quoted a tweet that called the article “racist”, but without really agreeing, so much as noting that as an opinion. Another one only drops either of the r-words in relation to the articles contents (or its author, editors, and publisher) in saying it was “almost too transparent, resembling something closer to satire than to outright racism.” Quite literally, a privileged, educated and fundamentally well-off racist screed is easier to understand as poorly executed humor than an extension of racism.

None of this is to claim that if racist words had come out of not Robertson’s mouth but that of a distant relative or childhood neighbor it wouldn’t be racist (or, alternatively, that the racist ideas about a happy pre-civil rights past are not prevalent throughout the South and the US generally). Instead, it’s to question who we let off the hook when it comes to racist statements without even realizing it. More often than not, it seems like it’s well-off writers for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that are called out by fellow White people for classism, when racism is a clear factor as well. We’re too slow in picking up on and shutting down the racism of people who look like Robertson, but too many of us don’t seem to even realize the cruelties people who look like Romney regularly spew.

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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.

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How many ways are our media failing?

What’s happened to the media? Something, that’s for sure. Yesterday over at Velociriot!, the brilliant Sam gave us all the lowdown on just how idiotic the coverage of the Boston Bombings really was. Sadly, she make a good case that because “the entire country sought information about what had happened” the normal process of confirming information and general values of skepticism disintegrated. Islamophobic attitudes went wild because the normal process of filtering at least a good chunk of them out went out the window – whether we’re talking about print, televised, or online media. It’s the phenomenon that gave us a stampede to call Florida for Bush in 2000 on steroids, and with numerous information networks now competing to instantly inform their audiences, it’s only going to get worse.

Today over there, the equally insightful Amanda pointed to a success story of sorts, where the Associated Press’s twitter account was hacked but was quickly called out as such. As much hope as there is in this reminder that even US media consumers aren’t as docile as we might sometimes think, it’s also a warning. The conditions in which modern media operate in the US aren’t conducive to the best reporting, but there’s also the various risks still posed by those that want to deliberately spread false information (in this case, that the White House had been attacked – following last week’s bombings, the intent to cause panic seems pretty transparent).

Of course, any such conversation about efforts to intentionally misinform the public has to acknowledge that it’s not just criminals. Sometimes these attempts are openly admitted to, and with perfect legality. Look no further than the Koch brothers’ interest in buying up the newspaper market.

(Of course, News Corporation owner Robert Murdoch proves you can have a hand in both of those cookie jars at the same time, from here.)

In this day and age, we can’t afford to not be skeptical of everything. Remember that.

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Just when you thought we’d gotten a break from the Bushes…

As this is the first Monday since “Spring Forward” for me, and will also be for any US-based reader, I’ll keep this post especially short and to the point. Jeb Bush has in a simultaneously hilarious and terrifying fashion, declared that Obama based his reelection campaign on dividing the country – primarily on the basis of class. This was, purportedly, unfair because Republicans understand and sympathize with US voters from all backgrounds.

That’s rich coming from the brother of the Republican President who was installed in office after every Republican justice on the Supreme Court voted to discontinue vote counting and inspections in Florida and simply declare him the winner. Likewise, while in office, that same close relative continually made statements to the rest of government and the population of the US and the world in the vein of- either “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists“.

Those acts had antecedents though, in the form of decades of such rhetoric from prominent Republicans. Remember how they used to talk about how great it would be if the US became a de facto one-party state? Remember the Moral Majority and how it spent the 1970’s and 1980’s advocating for the rolling back of newly gained rights for non-Christians, women, and queer people? Before that was the Southern Strategy, when Republicans prioritized the racial views of White southerners over the opinions and rights of others.

These are more than distant facts though – these are the political forces that have shaped and continue to shape the Republican Party. There’s a reason that in the past presidential election, it was the Republican candidate who took credit for expanding opportunities for women when scores of female activists had actually pushed for it and did all of the work in creating the system that he then used. Isn’t it divisive and belittling how he erased their work from his account of what happened? Besides that, there’s also a two word phrase that Romney popularized during the primary: “self deportation“, which is the concept of making life so miserable for undocumented people that they would leave the United States (how’s that for divisive?).

Perhaps that’s why there were no states that Romney won that Bush hadn’t won in 2000 or 2004. There’s precisely two that he picked up from Obama in 2008. In all, 21 of the 23 states that Romney won had been won by the Republican in every one of those three elections. That is not an indication of a broad, inclusive political brand or presidential campaign.

2012 usa presidential map showing the vast majority of the US being some shade of blue
(In this map which blends the percentage of the vote that was Republican [red] or Democratic [blue] along with population [color saturation], you can clearly see how inclusive the Republican brand is. From here.)

But this runs deeper than Romney – the entire party is culpable. As I pointed out last week, the only way Republicans can capitalized on Obama’s disastrous drone policies is by being concerned that the differentiation between targets who are US citizens in the US and all others isn’t strong enough. In a very literal sense, their grandstanding on the issue is based on worrying that there’s not enough legal division between citizens and non-citizens. Likewise, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) has barred a group of gay activist Republicans from even sponsoring their event (cooties!) for the second year in a row (and in previous years, they were barred from various forms of participation while allowed to attend).

All signs point towards exclusion and division having become core Republican values.

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The Electoral College should scare you

TW: Bush-era impunity

The 2012 US elections are now well underway, what with Obama and Romney’s first debate only a few days away, so that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite only-once-every-four-years event: the Olympics! debates about the Electoral College! Although the original video is almost a year old, one relatively informative explanation of the terribleness of the Electoral College has been circulating on Upworthy for the past week. It forgets that Nebraska and Maine aren’t necessarily winner take-all, but otherwise it reasonably points out the huge capacity for failure that the system has:

The winning system that relies on only receiving about 22% of the vote looks like this-

Map of states lacking California, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York

If that looks familiar, just get rid of the states with significant numbers of urban voters who would rather chew on broken glass than vote Republican and add larger states with Republican machines, and ta-da, you get George W. Bush’s base in 2000 and 2004:

Map of states won by Bush in 2004, except Florida and Ohio

In both years, Bush was also awarded the swing states of Ohio and Florida (and a few of the red states here he only carried in one of those years), but thanks to which states he won, his possibly fraudulent51% mandate” translated into a difference of 35 electoral votes (a somewhat more impressive 6.5% of the Electoral College counts). In other words, the Electoral College, even when it doesn’t produce a “winner” with a minority of the popular vote (as it did for Bush in 2000), can distort the outcome and create an impression of broader political support than may actually exist.

There’s further failures to be pointed out, though, with the obvious issue that the citizenry, as counted in the scenario in the video, is not synonymous with the electorate, that is, the actual voting public. There’s minors, naturally, who couldn’t (and frankly shouldn’t) vote, but there’s also disenfranchised groups, including currently imprisoned people and former convicts in certain states. As the recent electoral shenanigans in Colorado and Florida also remind us, there’s other available ways for state governments to disenfranchise voters, often on the grounds of challenging them to prove their citizenship.

But what’s more, even in presidential elections national turnout has failed to reach more than sixty percent of eligible voters since the late 1960s. The Electoral College fails to incorporate that information into its overall point system, as votes only matter within the context of winning electoral counts from a given state. So, while this outcome is basically ludicrous, if only a single vote were cast in each of the 39 states and the District of Columbia included in the video’s scenario, turnout in the remaining 11 states (which are the most populous) would be irrelevant. By the Electoral College’s standards, those 40 votes would trump the full and unanimous turnout of even 74.2 million votes (that figure’s from Census data on voter registration by state from 2010).

That’s an electoral win with only 0.0000005 percent of votes cast. That’s a successful election requiring only 0.0000003 percent of registered voters to participate to win. The reason those two numbers are so similar is because a large majority of registered voters still voted – just in concentrated locations where their votes are disproportionately devalued. In such a strange election, in spite of a tiny percentage of either the overall population or the vote-casting public determining the outcome, the overall electoral turnout would be approximately 54 percent. That would be a higher participation rate than in the 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections. It’s well within the range of typical electoral turnouts in the past couple of decades.

The point in this elaborate scenario isn’t to create paranoia that it could happen – it requires patently bizarre initial events to be possible. What it suggests though are the values that the Electoral College considers and the values it doesn’t. Wide geographic distribution is key, yes, but at the cost of ignoring the nuances of differing degrees of support across regions, differing turnout between states, and (as initially pointed out) the equal voice of any given voter. In effect, it sacrifices all of those concerns to make certain that a party’s plurality is dispersed across a large number of states. The specifics of that plurality aren’t factored into the overall impact, because that would reduce the emphasis on its wide geographic distribution. The priorities of such a system are not only outdated but horrifyingly unethical.

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The incompetence that confounds us still

TW: 9/11 attacks, conspiracy theories, “truther” movement

Eleven years after the terrorist attack that killed several thousand civilians in Lower Manhattan and a field in Pennsylvania, as well as many military employees in the Pentagon, and there’s almost nothing left to say about the event. In fact, it’s been half a decade now since people started pointing out that the attacks were a tragedy but within the endless series of tragedies stretching back centuries and promising to stretch forward into the future indefinitely. It’s likewise been a few years since people started pointing out that the deaths on 9/11 are among thousands of deaths every year so perhaps we should not only dwell on those lost but help those we can still save.

After British documentaries on the ensuing global and asymmetrical war, Bollywood fictionalizations of the new hostility towards perceived Muslims in America, French novels depicting the horror of the attack itself, and American films mentioning the attacks as simply a part of the backdrop, the only thing left to say is that there’s nothing to say, it sometimes seems. And that’s getting old itself. But this date eventually turns up on the calendar again, and those of us in the United States and many living elsewhere have to grapple with it once more. We can’t quite let this date become just another day.

The reasons why seems straightforward enough, if difficult to confront. Immediately after the attacks, the United States was gripped with questioning why the attacks occurred, and nearly every political group has sought to answer why anyone would want to do this. Much less commonly asked was how anyone could do it, but it still gnaws on many of us. Many Americans correctly saw the “truther” movement as built on counterfactual appeals, but those responses miss that the movement isn’t built on logical argument.

What happened on September 11, 2001 defied the logical universe of much of the population of the United States. For years certain truths had seemed evident: that the federal government was extremely well armed and that it didn’t use or at least rarely use its arms on American civilians because it had a vested interest in keeping Americans alive. When the attacks began, many people could not reconcile those facts with what they witnessed. Either the most technological advanced military-security system on the planet had somehow failed or American leaders had decided that certain American civilians were expendable.

There’s a less frequently explored third option – that the Bush Administration, while well-armed and mostly well-intended with American civilians’ lives, was so disastrously inept as to fail to act on the intelligence they had concerning the planning of 9/11. Even Tony Blair, who personally witnessed the subsequent failure in planning for the Iraq War, brushed aside evidence that incompetent advisers and cabinet members (particularly Donald Rumsfeld) were developing implausible Iraq War plans, insisting “Bush will make the decisions”.

If you truly want to spend this eleventh year anniversary reflecting on 9/11, think about the often overlooked component of how the attacks came to be. This could be particularly helpful in light of the recently declassified White House records showing not only a single report on bin Laden’s intentions that Bush and his administration ignored, but a series of them. The previous Republican administration had an established pattern of governing not only foolishly and cruelly but neglectfully to their basic duties in a practically criminal way. After how many anniversaries of the attacks will we be able to openly admit and discuss that?

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