George W. Bush & GOP lack standing to bash Trump for Racism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

George W. Bush gave a speech on Thursday widely interpreted as an attack on Trump in which he deplored the rise of white nationalism and bigotry in the past year. “Bigotry,” he lamented, “seems emboldened.”

George W. Bush may or may not personally be a nice guy. People used to say he was the sort of person you’d enjoy going for a beer with, and he has had close African-American and Arab friends.

On the other hand, he authorized the CIA to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammad practically to death. And, throughout his public career was complicit with the Republican Party dog whistle of racism and he wouldn’t have been president without it.

We can’t blame W. for his father’s campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, when George H. W. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater played the race card. Republican Governor Francis W. Sargent in 1972 had signed into law a furlough program for inmates in prison, and one Willie Horton was let out for a weekend on the program when Michael Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts. Horton committed assault and rape and fled, though a Muslim police officer later shot and apprehended him.

Atwater did up campaign ads trying to tie Dukakis to Horton, and very successfully so. He said, “I’m going to strip the bark off the little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate.” In 2016 mainstream Republican strategists were still talking about using a “Willie Horton” strategy. Atwater used to like to play Chicago blues, but after 1988 African-American musicians often avoided him like the plague. Atwater repented on his death bed and apologized for what he had done.

I’m not aware that W. ever criticized his father’s campaign for this tactic. It was very racist. I remember the ads. Horton was a disreputable-looking fellow and Atwater paired his photo up with that of Dukakis as though they were jointly on the most wanted list. The racism virtually dripped off the tv screen and pooled on the floor below.

But W. himself also does not have the standing to bash Trump on this issue, most unfortunately. This sad fact diminishes our country. I wish it were otherwise.

Exhibit A is the 2000 Republican primary campaign. Bush was running against Senator John McCain (R-AZ). McCain’s wife Cindy had visited an orphanage in Bangladesh and seen a little girl with a cleft palate who badly needed surgery. She and John adopted her and named her Bridget. Although Bridget was not raised Muslim, I think the McCains are particularly sensitive to anti-Muslim bigotry because of having a Bangladeshi in the family, and McCain refused to play the Islamophobia card in his campaign against Barack Obama in 2008.

In 2000, the McCains campaigned in South Carolina with their children, including Bridget. So Bush’s mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the idea of robo-calling voters and calling into talk radio, asking the question, “If you knew McCain had an illegitimate child with a Black woman, would that affect how you felt about him.” The Republican Party in South Carolina is solidly white, although the state is 1/3 African-American, and what they were pleased to call ‘miscegenation’ had been a crime in South Carolina until the late 1960s.

Because people had seen Bridget at the rallies, Rove’s smear was widely believed, and it contributed to McCain’s loss in the GOP primary. Bush winning South Carolina cemented his standing as a front runner.

No racism and bigotry, no Bush presidency. (McCain handily won South Carolina in 2008 when Rove was not calling the shots any more). Now you could say that Rove was behind all this and W. may not have backed it. But Bush never denounced Rove or dissociated himself from these tactics. The buck stops with him.

I agree with Bush that the poor response to Katrina by Bush and his FEMA was probably largely incompetence and that Kanye West was wrong to call him a racist over it (West has since apologized).

But Bush’s tax cuts went overwhelmingly to rich white people, and were designed to make it more difficult for the government to continue its social welfare spending, which benefits African-Americans. Structural racism was a big part of the Bush administration even if that wasn’t the lens through which W. himself saw his policies.

Moreover, Bush’s FBI wrongly targeted perfectly innocent Muslims, including those at the charity, the Holy Land Foundation, producing some of the biggest travesties of American justice since the end of Jim Crow.

The GOP had been better than most Democrats on race issues in the first half of the twentieth century. But with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Nixonian “southern strategy,” the party actively sought to become the mouthpiece for angry white men.

Trump is merely the logical conclusion of the Southern strategy, and until the Republican Party comes to terms with its decades of latent racism and its rather loud dog whistle, it will create more and more Trumps. Indeed, with Der Robert Mercer’s billions behind him, Der Steve Bannon is planning to oust GOP merely latent mild racists, and replace them with full on Nazis. The party has to decide whether it will acquiesce in this hostile takeover. If it won’t, it has to apologize for past racism and develop some other less toxic way of appealing to upper middle class voters.

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Related video:

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16 Responses

  1. Thank you Dr. Cole. I have been sickened by the fawning that has followed W’s speech.

    Let us not forget the needless wars, torture, trillions of dollars wasted, families..Iraqi and American… irreparable damaged because of this neocon puppet. This war criminal should be wearing an orange jump suit rather than enjoy his retirement turning out childish, amateurish paintings and giving speeches about so called American values.

  2. I’m very pleased to see that Professor Cole acknowledges that Trump is the logical conclusion of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy. It is worth mentioning, not only because it is true, but also because people tend to either forget this Republican strategy, or they may have never thought, or known of it before.

    Although it is kind of cool to see George W Bush get on board the Trump is a Moron car, like this article points out, we should recall who we are hearing this criticism of Trump from. I see W’s entrance into this ‘Trump’s a Moron Campaign’, as being his representing that certain faction in DC who despises this Moron, who really is a Moron, outsider Trump. Make no mistake about it people who voted for Trump because they saw him as an outsider who will drain the swamp, but Trump is nothing worth waiting for, as he only adds more slimy creatures to the already overflowing swamp excrement. Trump is all about what is good for Trump. On the other hand, even with all of that admitting that Trump is a Moron, I would adhere the caution sign tape to this fact with a warning label pointing to W’s own historical misgivings.

    I always thought W would be kind of fun to watch a College or NFL game with, and I would be his friend while watch the ex-President when he’s eating pretzels, but having W as a leader or as a mentor in this particular instances is hypocritical at best, and stupid for me having learned nothing about W’s warring past performance, go I.

    In the end we should take Trump’s insane presidency, and take the return of George W Bush and others like Bush, as even more proof that our system of governance is broken, and is in badly need of repair.

    • The old plantation owners evolved the strategy of manufacturing White Supremacy to control their rebellious European peasant class. Did the plantation owners actually believe the hateful venom that they bankrolled?

      I think that they began as cynics. It is said that Jefferson’s fellow Founding Fathers of the South all told themselves that slavery was a necessary financial expediency and would die out soon if they just kept their mouths shut (unlike Jefferson, who was all over the map about what the solution should be, but knew an actual effort had to be made).

      The horrible thing to explore is the mental self-lobotomization of the Southern intelligentsia in only a few short decades as the sons of the Founding Fathers decided that they were going to hold onto their slaves by any means necessary. The cynical gap between the rich Whites and poor Whites closed into a solid wall of hysterical dogma.

      I think what happened was that the ideology the plantation owners pimped to the poor simply contaminated all minds, including their own children. There was soon no one left who understood it was just an economic scam. It became a Sacred Way of Life that they were willing to die and kill for.

      Which brings us right to the Republican Party and its attempt to appease its new Southern partisans, doesn’t it? It happened all over again. The GOP leaders knew what lies they had to tell (since many were defecting Jim Crow Democrats). But they could not deliver on the logical implication of their dogma: that Blacks are so reprehensibly inferior that they have to be stripped of all rights as citizens again.

      So the monsters they cultivated with this vile, cynical manipulation went shopping for a Republican presidential candidate who would say the lies and act on them too. Ted Cruz would have been enough if they just wanted to hear the words. They hungered for someone who would actually tear the country apart to implement the Final Solution, unlike the corporatist establishment.

      They looked for a vicious sadist who destroyed everything he touched. And they elected him.

      • Well done, and very well put, super390.

        I’m still reeling from the 1972 presidential election. I was living in the South when Nixon won that year, but I was thoroughly dumbfounded by the many in the North who at that time had bought into Nixon’s distasteful philosophy, if you want to call it that.

        Ever since then, we have watched one politician after another play to this crowd of racist, and that in my mind goes against everything America should stand for, as we go bomb the world to ashes in the name of establishing ‘liberty and freedom for all’.

        Great comment super390. Joe

      • I think you’re way overthinking this, super390. The reason Jefferson could never come out four-square against slavery is because if he had freed his slaves — there goes the largest private library in North America, there goes his cellar full of the best French wines, there goes his inexhaustible hospitality to guests, there goes Monticello. Slaves were cash on the barrelhead, and in Jefferson’s case, by far the largest part of his personal fortune. When moral philosophy comes up against a comfortable lifestyle, it nearly always loses. No one asks Jamie Dimond why he doesn’t give away his money.

      • This was indeed a good an eloquent post, but looking inside ourselves, since we are all (presumably) just people, a more likely explanation is simple rationalization, given the economic investment in the system many people have to some extent.

        This manifests itself in the proprietary attitude people naturally develop, even absent a direct personal investment. A good example, reflecting your observation, is how middle managers come to refer to their employees as ‘theirs’. Its more than a matter of grammar. It’s a con they perpetuate on themselves as a reflection of their status and power, managers being chosen for their capacity to align with the values of true owners, even as they themselves are simply better-paid peasants.

        Marx, for all the obtuseness of his prose, had it nailed in many of these regards: people [of capacity and ambition] become co-opted by the system.

  3. The Shrub lacks any standing, whatsoever.

    The Bush/Cheney administration started two UNNECESSARY wars which continue to this day and have killed hundreds of thousands of primarily brown-skinned Muslims including women and children.

    Trump will endeavor to exceed the former administration body-counts to “Make America Great, Again.”

  4. And you don’t even mention that W. rode to national prominence Texas by running against Ann Richards’ (and Ross Perot’s) plan to equalize school funding in Texas, and his winning presidential campaign depended on a fairly blatant scheme to disenfranchise as many black voters as possible in Florida — an effort engineered by his brother, Jeb, then the Florida governor.

    That said, I’ll take it. This is kind of an “all hands on deck” moment. Let him earn a piece of redemption this way. No time to be picky.

  5. What’s really motivating Bush etal is Trump’s failure to serve the Republican establishment, even as he ultimately does seem to be serving their unduly agenda.

    There is the matter of Trump’s style, embarrassing as it is, but its more a matter of how he fails to supplicate himself.

    This failure to take a knee, notwithstanding his incompetence, is what stands to stop him before his term is up. Its the ultimate sin in any scenario where Power for its own sake motivates everything else.

  6. What would have been had Canada arrested him on his post-presidency visit for crimes against international law when Amnesty International requested it so? Of course that was never going to happen under Harper and the conservatives and really it wouldn’t have happened with the liberals or any other Canadian government either and would have been certainly a diplomatic crisis, but no one would ever think of coming close to that fantasy ever. Sadly, hasn’t been any sort of accountability since Nixon which has led to now.

  7. Juan,

    Your points are all well taken. Bush has a LOT to answer for. And I look back on his administration as the worst in my living memory. Unfortunately, Trump has a good chance to displace Dubya.

    But at the same time, I give the man credit. What he said in that speech needed to be said. And by someone with the stature of a former president. These are difficult times and I’ll take support from any quarter. We can – and should – assess blame for what went down a decade-and-half ago. But it’s 2017 and we have new struggles to combat.

  8. Thanks for this post Juan – W does NOT deserve a free pass by any stretch, unless he brings himself to admit a helluva lot of other assorted crimes; until then rehabilitation is a steep climb. In addition to all of this, for further context and history, let’s not forget that Reagan started his campaign in Philadelphia Miss., where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964, with involvement by the Philadelphia Police Department and the Neshoba County Sherif’s office. This was in 1980, when the memory of the murders was much more recent; as if that were not enough, there was Reagan’s dog whistle about welfare queens which he used in his campaign in 1976 and then again in 1980. In addition he referred to “strapping young bucks” who bought steaks with food stamps. On top of everything else there was his Confederate-esque invocation of “states’ rights”, a catch phrase used by Southerners to justify Jim Crow. In 1984 he returned to Philadelphia Miss. an stated that “the South shall rise again”.

    Racism is not a bug of the GOP; it is, in fact, its most prominent feature, apart, these days, from willful cruelty and incompetence.

  9. Bush’s denouncement rings hollow even though welcome at this disgraceful point. The Southern Strategy of the Republican Party was just fine with these people, including Poppy Bush, until it crossed the boundary of establishment “decency”.

  10. The mostly Republican caused disaster that was the Iraq War. Many ancient peoples like the Mandeans, Yezidis, Assyrians, Iraqi Turkmen, Kurds, etc. suffered and led to a diaspora and some groups are in real danger of going extinct. Republicans are truly something else…

  11. I don’t think you are being altogether fair to Bush Jr. For all his faults he had the most racially diverse cabinet in American history. I wonder if we would have ever had a black president had he not be proceeded by two highly respected African-American Secretary of States.

  12. Colin Powell may be highly respected (in spite of his UN performance), but his advice was completely ignored for four years. So you think people were OK with voting for Obama because Condi Rice did such a bang-up job? I don’t.

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