The Bush brigade is once again talking about the need to elevate the “tone” of discourse. The Republican National Committee is urging GOP 2016 candidates to “stop the name-calling.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush bemoans the fact that the base of his own party is allergic to compromise, and “angrier” than the left-wingers.
The translation of this Bush-speak? “Don’t question us — ever.” With Donald Trump soaring everywhere except among the Donor Class, the Bush operation and its media and think-tank enablers are fanning out to urge other GOP candidates not to fall into the Trump trash-talk habit.
The translation of this Bush-speak? “Don’t question us — ever.”
You see, it’s one thing to be consistently beaten in the polls by Trump. It’s another to be trailing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Thus, to stave off a full-bore anti-Bush resurrection in the field, Bushies such as think-tanker Pete Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, are attempting to argue that it is not conservative to be “uncivil” toward other candidates. (Again, what he really means is it’s unhelpful to deliver the sort of stinging Trump-style indictment of the Bush policies that galvanize public support.)
The latest iteration of the Bushies biting back comes from Wehner’s new posting that takes issue with renowned Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley’s PoliZette piece “In Defense of Incivility.” (Full disclosure: I knew Pete long ago, when he and I worked at the U.S. Department of Education.) Wehner refers to “a certain [rude] temperament one finds on the right these days,” and that instead of all the incivility, we must work politely to “advance a certain mode of discourse” that is in sync with true conservatism.
The benevolent explanation is that Bushies like Wehner have a memory problem. The “uncivil” explanation is that they’re rank hypocrites. Here are a few reminders of the “kinder, gentler” Bush way:
The story of how George H.W. Bush used negative ads to beat Bob Dole in the 1988 New Hampshire primary.
Or the time George H.W. Bush attacked Dan Rather.
And the time H.W. said that Reagan’s economic policy constituted “voodoo economics.”
And then there’s H.W.’s political consigliere, the late Lee Atwater. In 1981, Atwater discussed the famous “Southern Strategy” designed to camouflage race-based appeals to white voters.
Atwater, famous for making offers that couldn’t be refused while H.W. tried to float above of the muck, managed Bush’s successful presidential campaign in 1988. He was one of the Republican Party’s best political tacticians, famous and feared for his readiness to attack opponents and his skill in carrying out those attacks.
To those who complained that the presidential campaign Atwater ran for Bush was empty and unpleasant, Atwater replied: “We had only one goal in the campaign: to help elect George Bush. That’s the purpose of any political campaign. What other function should a campaign have?”
Atwater was behind the infamous Willie Horton ad, which helped sink Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, but led to charges that Horton’s race — he is black — was part of the message.
George W. Bush took over the mound from his dad and started throwing bean balls too, allegedly throwing curve balls at Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the 2000 South Carolina primary when it looked like the nomination might be on the line.
He moved on during the general election to Democrat Sen. John Kerry’s military service as his allies launched the so-called “Swift Boat attacks.”
Ever since the Bushes came on the national stage, they have not hesitated to attack anyone — including Republicans like Reagan, Dole, and McCain — who got in their way. Nor have they refused to make personal and highly controversial attacks if they thought doing so would help their cause.
I do not criticize the Bushes for playing hardball in politics. If anything, I wish they had been tougher on the Democrats. But in light of this history, it is simply appalling for them and their supporters to now turn around and lecture the rest of us on the importance of “civility” in politics.
The constant yammering about “tone” is a trap designed to prevent anyone from criticizing the establishment.
Of course, Wehner (purposely?) misses Shirley’s whole point: The constant yammering about “tone” is a trap designed to prevent anyone from criticizing the establishment. If conservatives can’t strongly criticize the establishment, of course, they can’t warn the voters about how bad establishment policies are. In other words, he wasn’t actually saying that people should be rude — he was saying that we have to be willing to say things that the establishment doesn’t want to hear.
The Bushies, in response, pretend that Shirley was supporting rudeness for its own sake, which is nonsense.
“Mr. Wehner picks his fights oddly,” Shirley said when reached by LifeZette. “Apparently, he thinks the dirty tricks of the Bushes — just ask John McCain about the 2000 South Carolina primary — are fine. But conservatives are supposed to shut up and be second-class citizens to him and his brethren of neocons.”
Indeed, Wehner has a selective memory. He invokes Reagan and William F. Buckley — contending neither would be so rough and tumble in their critiques. Oh really?
Here is an example of some of the ways in which Reagan attacked Henry Kissinger when he ran for president in 1976, including the charge that Kissinger had allowed the United States to drift to second place behind the Soviets as a military power, a potentially “fatal” circumstance.
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As for Buckley, here’s the story of how he ran for mayor of New York City in 1965 in an effort to prevent John Lindsey from becoming the face of the GOP. Notice how the New York Herald Tribune, a supporter of liberal Republicanism, responded by claiming that New Yorkers considered “the mayoralty an office not to be trifled with.”
See? It’s always tone. The establishment and its supporters would rather complain about tone than debate the issues. That’s Shirley’s point. And Wehner’s piece proves that Craig Shirley is right.