Perrspectives - Bringing light to Darkness

Can We Finally--Finally!--Be Done with the Bushes?

March 9, 2015

The imbroglio over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails has conservative unsheathing their knives from the scabbards. Politico compared the Democratic frontrunner to Richard Nixon, turning to Tricky Dick's former speechwriter and California Republican strategist Ken Khachigian to explain, "This is like the Nixon tapes." Meanwhile, the National Review's Kevin Williamson declared, "Can we finally--finally!--be done with the Clintons?"

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton schemed to subvert record-keeping and transparency rules for reasons that are probably more or less communicated by her surname: The Clintons are creeps and liars and scoundrels and misfits, always have been, always will be. They are the penicillin-resistant syphilis of American politics.

If so, Americans must love them some syphilis. After all, Hillary Clinton leads all of her potential Republican rivals, and not just because her experience as a cabinet member and Senator who very nearly won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Just as important, Americans remember President Bill Clinton's tenure as one of peace and prosperity that delivered 22 million new jobs in the longest and largest economic expansion in modern U.S. history. It's no wonder he left office with a 65 percent approval rating.
In sharp contrast, the Bush clan--our other political dynasty--is like the Ebola virus of American politics. Their recurrent outbreaks are deadly, and the damage lasts long afterwards. The Bush presidential legacy is economic recession, sectarian carnage in the Middle East, and corruption in Washington. As with Ebola, there is no cure for Bush in the White House: we can only to prevent it from taking root in the first place.

Consider the economic performance of Presidents Bush 41 and Bush 43. Despite his smashing victory in the Gulf War, George H.W Bush was ejected from office because of the 1991 recession and middling job creation record. Breaking his "no new taxes" pledge, George H.W. Bush was punished by his own party for trying to cauterize the hemorrhage of red ink he and his predecessor unleashed. But junior did much worse. The Clinton boom was followed by two Bush recessions in 2001 and 2007. The best job creation record since World War II was followed by the worst. And thanks to his tax cut windfalls for the wealthy in 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush took the surplus projections here inherited and turned them into red ink for as far as the eye can see.

The Bush national security record was little better. Despite adroitly building an international coalition which quickly ejected Saddam Hussein's forces from Iraq, President George H.W. Bush ultimately left the Sunni dictator and sectarian bloodshed in place. Having encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam after the cease fire, Bush 41 declared "I do not want one single soldier or airman shoved into a civil war in Iraq that's been going on for ages" even as Hussein's helicopter gunships massacred Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. In 1994, his former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney explained why:

If we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.
Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.

But less than a decade after he spoke those words, Vice President Cheney and his boss George W. Bush launched Shock and Awe in Iraq. Even as undermanned American forces in Afghanistan failed to crush Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Bush 43 was preparing to invade Iraq. "There is no doubt," Cheney warned in 2002, that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. Bush concurred, arguing that the U.S. could not wait for "the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.) Of course, they were wrong about WMD, about being "greeted as liberators," about "mission accomplished," and pretty much everything else. As Bush 43 acknowledged in 2008, Al Qaeda was in Iraq precisely because of his invasion. And his plans to beat Al Qaeda and calm sectarian tension by simultaneously installing a Shiite partisan in Baghdad while buying off Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province ultimately blew up in his--and our--face.

Now, Jeb Bush is reassembling the team that brought you "regime change" in Iraq. The gang from the Project for a New American Century, of which Jeb was a founding signatory, is back. And that includes people like Elliot Abrams, who didn't just help plan Dubya's 2003 Iraq war. As it turns out, Abrams was among the Reagan administration officials pardoned for their Iran-Contra scandal roles by Jeb's dad on Christmas Day, 1992.
Yes, it was President George H.W. Bush who introduced the criminalization of politics defense into the Republican strategic lexicon. In justifying his Iran-Contra pardons, President George H.W. Bush used the talking point that has been the first arrow in the GOP scandal defense quiver ever since. As the New York Times reported at the time:

Mr. Bush said today that the Walsh prosecution reflected "a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country: the criminalization of policy differences."

(If not for the timely 1987 death of CIA Director William Casey, George H.W. Bush might have needed a pardon himself.)
In that respect, too, it was like father, like son in the Bush White House. No matter the scandal--the U.S. prosecutors purge, Hatch Act violations, the regime of detainee torture, Tom Delay's money laundering, millions of missing White House emails from over staffers using RNC email addresses, the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame and so much more--President George W. Bush and his allies would decry "the criminalization of politics." Thanks to a presidential commutation, Plamegate conspirator and convicted felon Scooter Libby never spent a day in jail.
Since leaving office, Kevin Williamson's "syphilitic" Clintons have raised billions of dollars for their charitable foundation's work all over the world. As his father did with the Carlyle Group, George W. Bush delivered on his promise to "replenish the ol' coffers" after leaving the White House. After leaving the Governor's office in Florida, Jeb went the Romney route, padding his bank account with dollars from sometimes dubious private equity deals.
Nevertheless, in their all-out campaign to crush Hillary Clinton, the right-wing noise machine wants to make sure Americans never stop hearing about email servers, Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater. But what voters should really be concerned is an old saying proven true by the Bush clan.
Bad things come in threes.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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