Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 4, 2010

SOMETHING BUSH DID RIGHT -- AND CAN DO RIGHT AGAIN.... Last week, Paul Waldman, whose regard for George W. Bush is identical to mine, raised a good point about one of the admirable qualities of the failed former president.

...Bush actually went out of his way to repeat that America was not at war with Islam as a whole, only with certain radical elements engaged in terrorism. It seemed like the most obvious thing in the world -- first, because it's plainly true, and secondly, because the idea that America is as war with Islam is exactly what Al Qaeda wants people to believe. It's central to their recruiting efforts. [...]

[T]oday, the question of whether an Islamic cultural center will be built in lower Manhattan has brought out a whole bunch of ugliness from the right.... Who would have thought Bush would start looking moderate and reasonable?

For all of Bush's many, many faults, he was generally quite responsible when it came to these issues. Even when his base embraced the ugliest bigotry and demagoguery, the former president resisted such talk, took the high ground, and showed genuine respect for diversity and religious freedom. Bush could have very easily slipped into the same discriminatory swamp, and to his credit, he chose not to.

But as we've seen in recent weeks, Bush's political allies -- Gingrich, Palin, Cheney, Giuliani, et al -- aren't following his example, especially as it involves a proposed Muslim community center a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. Yesterday, noting the Republican hysteria over the Cordoba House, Kevin Drum took a similar to line to Waldman: "For once, I really do miss George Bush. The damage he did to the American cause in the Muslim world is incalculable, but at least he never countenanced this kind of lunatic bigotry. Are there any Republican leaders left today who can say the same? Anyone willing to just quietly and frankly defend traditional American notions of religious freedom and traditional American notions of tolerance and decency?"

So far, no. There are no Republican grown-ups willing to step up and say, "Enough. This is wrong. We're better than this."

Of course, Bush took a responsible approach in office, and as Matt Yglesias noted this morning, he could do the same again.

[H]ere's the thing: George W Bush isn't dead. He's alive and well. If he wanted to stand alongside Mayor Bloomberg and do a press conference, I'm sure people would pay attention. Perhaps he's observing a kind of ex-presidential courtesy and staying out of things. But Dick Cheney hasn't shied away from inserting himself into political controversies. He could stand up for old fashioned Bush-Cheney values of start lots of wars but steer clear of explicit anti-Muslim bigotry. But he doesn't want to. Nor does his daughter Liz. Karl Rove was the architect of the Bush administration's messaging and I see him on Fox News all the time. He, too, could stand up for the approach to conservatism we remember from the Bush era. But he doesn't want to either.

Now why is that? I couldn't quite say. But at a minimum it's indicative that they don't have a very strong commitment to either the principle of non-discrimination or the strategic conceit that the conservative vision of a "war on terror" is something other than a civilizational struggle with Muslims.

I'll cut Dick Cheney some slack -- the guy is still in the hospital with heart problems -- but Matt's larger point is a good one. It would take some political character for Bush and his team to step up now and denounce a GOP line they deliberately avoided while in office. Why not show some courage and do the right thing now?

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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So you're basically admitting that the current crop of Democrats, especially the White House, can't manage day-to-day political issues and need to get the "worst president in modern history" to help them out?


Posted by: Observer on August 4, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Hatred of islam is a useful Republican tool to bash the Democrats. And to Hell with any "unintended" consequences. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 4, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

If Bush stood alongside Bloomberg, as Yglesias suggests, he'd be accusing the current leaders of the Republican Party of bigotry. Now, Bush could astonish me and do that, but I don't expect it.

Posted by: MattF on August 4, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Come on, give Bush a break!

I can't believe I wrote that.

Bush has been a good ex-President. He has stayed away from public comments on how the new President is doing his job.

He stayed away when he agreed. He stayed away when he disagreed.

are you saying ex-Presidents should only speak out when they agree with the current President?

OK, I know the mosque is not an Obama issue. But the point is that Bush is staying out of direct politics. Let him be.

Cheney is a Dick.

Posted by: neil wilson on August 4, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, maybe. But this is the man who was obsessed with getting a public "thank you" from the Iraqi leadership and citizens for all of our great blessings we brought to their country. He also signed off on Cheney's vision of teaching the Arab street that we mean business and should be feared. That's infantilization of a people, which gets you a good ways to bigotry.

I guess he earn his usual C+.

Posted by: Todd B. on August 4, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

"I'll cut Dick Cheney some slack -- the guy is still in the hospital with heart problems"

This is why conservatives will continue to win. Can you imagine one of them making a statement like this about a Democratic/progressive figure? No. You can't.

Posted by: Lee Gibson on August 4, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I know there's a mini-trend among left and center-left bloggers of praising Bush for his supposed evenhandedness about Islam as a whole.

I call bullshit. This guy started an illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands, and he started it on a lie that was absolutely predicated on the (correct) assumption that Americans will believe that all Middle Eastern Muslims are interchangeable. His administration freaking promoted, nurtured, coddled and spoon-fed that ignorant prejudice and used every opportunity to fan the flames of bias. The fact that Dubya stood up and paid lip service to religious tolerance in his official speeches does not absolve him and his team of working frenetically via innuendo, spin, shading and outright lying to promote intolerance. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone would fall for this after all these years.

Posted by: shortstop on August 4, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Don't forget about W's favorite relative, Bandar.

Posted by: Philonius on August 4, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure "Bush was took a responsible approach in office"....

Posted by: ericfree on August 4, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

You really want Bush out there saying anything supportive?


Think exactly about how hard that might backfire. He's not exactly well-liked by Republicans these days. They're mostly trying to either edit him out of history so that Obama takes over for Clinton or rehabilitate him so they can blame the Democratic Congress for everything.

Pulling him out to support the "let's not be racist" side would pretty much whip the racists into a huge frenzy and push the GOP to distance themselves from Bush by doubling-down on the racism. Not a good idea.

He should stay shut-up. No one needs to hear from Bush until the president after Obama takes office. And even then Bush should mostly shut-up - no one cares what he thinks about anything.

Posted by: NonyNony on August 4, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

So Yglesias & Benen, you are saying Karl Rove should take the high road and admonish those who would use wedge issues and fearmongering for political purposes...

Umm... are you out of your fricking MIND?!!

Posted by: Ohioan on August 4, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

This is ridiculous. You're giving Bush credit because he sometimes made a public show of wringing his hands about our perception of Islam, and vice versa?

Bush would go on camera, put on his compassionate face, and say we're not at war with Islam. But then just about every action he took regarding Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq said the opposite -- or at least that he considered the issue irrelevant.

It was a political tactic used to deflect his critics. There was nothing admirable about it. I'm sure he didn't believe we were at war with Islam, but I doubt he gave a damn one way or the other. And he certainly doesn't give a damn now.

Posted by: drew42 on August 4, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Bush taking the high road on this matter was one of the most obvious of all his obvious lies in office.

Posted by: Vokoban on August 4, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

The less we see of Bush the better.

Once upon a time Republican leaders were mostly economic conservatives or neocons who appealed to the base of crazies when it served their purposes. But the pols ran the show, and the crazies jumped when they were told to jump.

Now the crazies run the show. The pols don't call the shots anymore. They just ask "How high?"
when the crazies say "Jump."

Posted by: JJF on August 4, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

But, as alway, shortstop misses the point. You could say that the right's attitude toward all Muslims rises from the Bush administration's conflation of Sunni and Shiite, violent and nonviolent Muslims. That just makes it more important that Bush restate his policy that we were never at war with all Muslims, only those who attacked us. I know, in the context of his deeds, it makes no sense. That's why, in the Alice/mirrorworld the right lives in and forces the rest of us to confront, it's all the more valuable.

Posted by: ericfree on August 4, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Bush was OK with Islam but only with its princely version -- like the Saudi Princes. For the street version he had as much respect as for the street version of any religion -- mouth off some agreeable platitudes and make sure you sanitize your hands well after encountering it.

As for his getting involved in any political activity at this point... you've got to be kidding. It was hard work to be presidenting and hard work and W just don't go together well. Towards the end of his misrule, you could see that even being a figurehead president was too much effort to bother with.

Posted by: exlibra on August 4, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

ShortStop hit the nail on the head. Bush's relationship with Muslims will be remembered by the occupation of Iraq, killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians, detention without trial and torture.

Posted by: RolloTomasi on August 4, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

I read a few days ago that Darth Cheney is out of the hospital. So, whack away at him all you want. Please.

Posted by: estamm on August 4, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Cheney, Rove and their ilk beat the anti-Muslim drum to aggravate their base, whose members respond to fear-driven rhetoric. Bush would have done the same - have we forgotten his inflammatory "evil-doer", "If you're not with us, you're against us" speeches already? But Bush could afford to occasionally sound reasonable since some of the very same folks stirring the Republican base now were by his side and stirring it then.

The Republicans have proven they are not serious about governing, responsibility or honesty. They will use scare tactics until the American public refuse to allow such blatant manipulation to be perpetrated upon them.

Posted by: Limbaugh's Diabetes on August 4, 2010 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Let's keep Mr. Sunni? Shia? down on the ranch. He's happy there and we're happy that he is there.

Bush actually went out of his way to repeat that America was not at war with Islam

Please. First of all "Not at war with Islam" is a meaningless statement. It ranks up there with Bush saying he supported life. Not at war with Islam is the same thing you get from the drooling bigots who hate Jews - as individuals - but loooove Israel - a country they couldn't find on the map if you beat them over the head with a stone from the Wailing Wall. (And while the drooling bigots haven't bombed the shit out of millions of Jews, Israel getting smoked and Jews going off to Hell are key parts of their End Times fantasies.)

Secondly, if Bush DID stand up and say "Heh, you folks better leave the mooslims alone." The fReichtards just would start screaming Stealth Liberal! again.

Posted by: The Answer WAS Orange on August 4, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

If Bush spoke out in favor of the Cordoba House, or just in general of good relations, the right would turn on him, and then who would buy his upcoming memoirs?

Posted by: coloradoblue on August 4, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

But, as alway, shortstop misses the point.

If you say so. I don't recognize your handle, so I'll have to give you the benefit of the doubt on any previous exchanges we may have had that I don't recall.

In any case, my comment addressed only the banality of center-left bloggers buying (or disingenuously pretending to buy) the notion that Bush actually fought against the wholesale demonization of Muslims. Whether his now making "It's not about the Muslims in general" statements would be at all useful or advisable is a whole 'nother matter. I'll say now that I agree with all here who recognize that the result would simply be the 'bagger brigade (which was created largely as a way for Republicans embarrassed by Bush to try to separate themselves from him while clinging to failed GOP policies) further declaring their distaste for him and accusing him of heinous RINOsity.

Posted by: shortstop on August 4, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I'm with shortstop. Don't be deceived by Bush's words; he's an inveterate liar. He perpetrated a culture war, all the while claiming he wasn't. That doesn't change what he actually did.
If Bush said he was adopting a kitten, I'd ask why. Or more likely, I'd want to see if Cheney was preheating the oven.

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on August 4, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Basically, they figured, like they always do, that the if they appeared one way in the media and another with the stuff that they feed out of the base that the MSM doesn't pay attention they could create a wedge issue while denying they were. Of course we're not at war with Islam, although I am starting to thing that the only thing that will make certain people happy is to invade Morocco and march the troops to Indonesia.

This comes from somewhere, and the usual subjects are at play. They're friendly on meet the press, then when they go to the churches and the ignored right wing broadcasts and books and talk about how arabs only understand violence and question their institutions. As usual, they pretend to be caught off guard when it bubbles up.

No one should be surprised that this happens as no one in the establishment Democratic wing has ever come up with a strategy for countering the likes of right wing books and pamphlets.

Posted by: anomimouse on August 4, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Nah . . . Shortstop nailed it. In fact, the main reason I clicked onto the Comments was to see if anyone else had the same take on this that I did.

Look . . . Bush said whatever he had to say in order to keep up his "reasonable" bona fides, but the entire time he was doing that his flunkies were conflating al Queda w/Iraq, and persuading millions of Americans -- by nothing more than association, repeating "Iraq" and "9/11" over and over again in the same sentence -- that Iraq attacked us and that by attacking Iraq we were attacking the terrorists.

And let's not forget Bush's references to being a "crusader."

What Bush did is no different than -- on the campaign trail -- taking the "high road" while your flunkies fling the mud.

Y'know what? I'd actually love it if Bush came out and repeated some of these official statements now, to try to tamp down the sheer craziness going on in our country. But there are two reasons he hasn't and he isn't going to: (i) he doesn't really care all that much -- he's retired, thank you very much, and (ii) he does believe he is on a mission from God.

Bush isn't going to repudiate this madness for the simple reason that it infects him too.

Posted by: swellsman on August 4, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Shortstop, you beat me to it. Of course Bush made high-minded noises about tolerance and understanding while shamelessly exploiting anti-Muslim bigotry to create a connection in people's minds between Al Qaeda and Iraq. To give him the very little benefit of the doubt he deserves, that may have been more Cheney than Bush, but Bush let him call the shots.

However, do let us give credit to one Republican who has done the right thing, Mayor Bloomberg. Look for him to be drummed out of the party in very short order.

Posted by: T-Rex on August 4, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

This comment is another edition of "What shortstop Said."

Posted by: Gregory on August 4, 2010 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I think Bush has kept quiet since leaving office because he's not interested in policy or doing anything that requires him to stand up in public and say something. After all, he sure as hell didn't seem to enjoy it while he was president.

But everyone on this comment thread arguing about whether it's appropriate for him to speak out as a former President is whacked. Of course it's appropriate for him to speak out. This isn't a question of supporting or opposing some policy initiative from the Obama administration, it's a question of supporting sanity and freedom of religion. Granted, George Bush isn't the first person I think of when I think of sanity, but if he could make a valuable contribution then more power to him.

On a slightly different topic, it seems that the 'hard right' was too embarrassed to raise a major fuss over a mosque in Temecula, California. I wonder why high-profile conservative idiots are still raising a fuss over the 'Ground Zero' mosque?

Posted by: David Bailey on August 4, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

What Gregory said.

P.S. Look at what Bush did, not what he said. What he said was for the consumption of the House of Saud, which has been very cozy with the Bush Family for many many years.

Posted by: josef on August 4, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Can I (coming in late) just point out that one of the proudest moments for me in the last (rather forlorn) decade was the national prayer service at the National Cathedral in DC, when the first speaker to come to the altar to speak was...an imam.

Had we continued down the path of celebrating our tradition of plurality and toleration, we would likely be in a much better position today.

Posted by: Jim Pharo on August 4, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet I'm not alone in being extremely grateful to George W. Bush for one thing in particular..........He didn't die in office!

Posted by: sceptic on August 4, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

"...I'll cut Dick Cheney some slack --..."-Benen

Then screw you. This monster is directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and disfigurements. For dividing this nation and the world with lies and propaganda. He is guilty of treason and selling this country off to big oil.

Like the beheading of Sadam for using WMD's (poison gas) on his citizens, if there were any real justice and investigation into the events of 9/11 it would be found that Cheney is just as guilty as his was the voice who kept our air force from responding to the event and whose involvement covered up the real story, the truth and should rightfully receive the same punishment. His removal from this earth could not come quick enough for all the damage and death he has caused. If he left this country he would be arrested for war crimes so stop pretending he should even be referred to as a legitimate American unless you are willing to cut OBL (who is already dead) "slack" for kidney problems. Love your work Benen but Cheney is a man who deserves no "slack" whatsoever. (Insert torture photos here)

Posted by: bjobotts on August 4, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

A bit disingenuous, Observer? Sheesh!

Jim Pharo:

"Can I (coming in late) just point out that one of the proudest moments for me in the last (rather forlorn) decade was the national prayer service at the National Cathedral in DC, when the first speaker to come to the altar to speak was...an imam.

"Had we continued down the path of celebrating our tradition of plurality and toleration, we would likely be in a much better position today."

I heartily second what you said. Here in Tucson, we had an interfaith assembly, held on the Sunday following 9/11 at our convention center downtown, to accommodate the 1000s of people who showed up. I'm proud to say that the rector of my Episcopal church was one of the organizers of the event, and one of those who led the prayers. We also had an imam, and the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-el, a close friend of my rector. Other Protestant denominations were represented, and Catholics, and a Sikh and a Buddhist. Together, the faith leaders and the attendees cried, prayed, and sang.

I also attended, on 10/11/01, along with other members of my church, an interfaith memorial service, held at Temple Emanu-el, and again attended by members from all sorts of faiths, including Muslims, and leaders from all those faiths were up by the altar and the Torah.

To me, this represents the best of America. How sad that most of the Republicans (and, unfortunately, some Democrats), used 9/11 as an excuse to make war, and totally blew the opportunity to bring the peoples of the world closer together. I know I should forgive, but it's very hard to forgive these politicians, who, frankly, are EVIL.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on August 4, 2010 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

The comment by David Bailey @ 1:34 PM is a perfect summation of why GWB should speak up. And why he won't.
To me the rancor displayed against Bush and Cheney appears useless and, basically, childish. Thankfully, they no longer have any direct influence on the day-to-day operations of our government. If either man thinks "history" will justify what he did, he, and anyone supporting him are in for a very nasty surprise.
Consign them to the trash bin where they belong and direct our attentions to those trying to follow in their footsteps, THEY are the problem now.

Posted by: Doug on August 4, 2010 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

George Bush was not popular with the left because he was a grown up who knew what he was doing, had experience as a governor, and stood by his common sense convictions. On the other hand, we now who has a leader who will play whatever game that he thinks will further his cause- the blame-game, the race card, the diplomat.....What most liberals don't get is that Islam is not a religion, but an ideology in the hands of radicals. If the center was just a mosque, a place of worship most would not have a problem (except why does Manhattan need another mosque). But most Repubs feel it will just be a training ground for Islamic radicalism.

Posted by: Redrose on August 5, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK



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