It turns out that all it takes to transform cowardice into courage is 22 years, a touch of amnesia and a bit of fairy dust from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
On Sunday, the Kennedy Library gave its “Profile in Courage Award” to former President George H.W. Bush for bravely agreeing in 1990 to sign a budget deal that contained tax increases, even though he had memorably declared during the 1988 campaign “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
Here’s the Kennedy Library’s version of what happened:
“He had promised Americans no new taxes during the presidential campaign two years earlier and he was voted into office with that promise. But, he had also promised to serve his country, and he decided that was the promise he would keep…. America’s gain was President Bush’s loss, and his decision to put country above party and political prospects makes him an example of a modern profile in courage that is all too rare.”
I was covering economic policy for The Washington Post from 1990 through 1993, and things were not that simple. First, making the pledge was a political maneuver that Bush must have known was not sustainable given the mounting federal deficits in the 1980s.
Second, he held out for a long time to avoid breaking the pledge; the deadlock with House Democrats forced the government to briefly shut down. He did not lead the way to a tax deal; he made Democrats push hard for it and let his budget director figure out how to package it.
Third, after signing the budget deal, Bush tried to distance himself from it. Even before the formal signing ceremony, he said at a press conference that he “had to gag and digest” parts of the deal. Later he was pressed by some of his political advisers to renounce the deal when he was campaigning for reelection in 1992. On March 3, 1992, Bush declared in a public appearance and interviews that the 1990 deal was a mistake. “If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t do what I did then, for a lot of reasons, including political reasons,” he said.
Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro created a bit of a stir last week when he alleged that Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be the next secretary of defense, may have ties to an organization called “Friends of Hamas.”
On Wednesday, after reporters at mainstream publications could find no evidence of any such organization even existing, Shapiro* Breitbart News doubled down: “The mainstream media have ignored the fact that at least one prominent supporter of Hamas has donated money to an organization associated with former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)—namely, the Atlantic Council, which receives support from the Hariri family of Lebanon, whose most prominent member, former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, publicly backs Hamas.”
The Atlantic Council is, like many such vaguely named D.C. institutions, a repository for pretty much anyone who has ever held a high-ranking foreign policy position in the federal government. If Shapiro is correct, Hagel should be the least of our worries; every administration since the 1960s has been corrupted by Hamas:
Condoleezza Rice: Bush’s second secretary of state—and Atlantic Council honorary director—hid her connections to Hamas by refusing to negotiate with it.
William Webster: The only man to ever helm the CIA and the FBI, Webster served under Presidents Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush and is an honorary director at the Atlantic Council.
Robert Gates: Gates, an honorary director, was George W. Bush’s last Secretary of Defense (and President Obama’s first).
James A. Baker, III: An honorary director of the Atlantic Council, Baker served as a chief of staff for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Despite critics that brand him as anti-business and anti-Wall Street, President Obama’s first term in the White House has been bullish for stocks.
The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has risen 85% since Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, says S&P Capital IQ. That stellar return tops first-term gains of Obama’s past four predecessors: George. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
Using the Dow Jones industrial average, Obama ranks third in first-term stock performance of all presidents; Franklin D. Roosevelt is No. 1, says Bespoke Investment Group.
Of course, attempts to equate gun control with fascism are bogus. But the “Hitler took the guns” argument has long had a prominent and fairly effective role in America’s gun control debate despite its obvious reductionism.
Its origins can be traced back to at least the early 1980s, when opponents of a Chicago proposal to ban handguns invoked it in the largely Jewish suburb of Skokie by “reminding village residents that the Nazis disarmed the Jews as a preliminary to sending them to the gas chambers,” the Chicago Tribune reported. In 1989, a new pro-gun group called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership began arguing that the 1968 federal gun control bill once favored by the NRA’s old guard “was lifted, almost in its entirety, from Nazi legislation.” (That false claim is still being repeated.)
In 1994, JPFO founder Aaron Zelman implored the NRA’s board to seize on the alleged Nazi connection:
Some of you may even have figured out that unless the NRA changes its strategy, the law abiding firearm owner in America will go the way of the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe: extermination…The choice is yours; you can turn your back on a failed strategy—one of compromise with evil-doers—and attack the concept of “gun control” by exposing the Nazi roots of “gun-control” in America. Or, you can persist in a failed strategy, and accept your own extinction.
Whether or not the NRA was influenced by his advice, that same year its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, published Guns, Crime, and Freedom, in which he claimed, “In Germany, firearm registration helped lead to the holocaust,” leaving citizens “defenseless against tyranny and the wanton slaughter of a whole segment of its population.” The following year, President George H.W. Bush famously resigned from the NRA after LaPierre attacked federal law enforcement officials as “jack-booted government thugs” who wore “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.” More recently, Stephen Halbrook, a lawyer who has represented the NRA, argued (PDF) that “If the Nazi experience teaches anything, it teaches that totalitarian governments will attempt to disarm their subjects so as to extinguish any ability to resist crimes against humanity.”
Former President George H.W. Bush has been admitted to the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital “following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever,” but he is alert and talking to medical staff, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Jim McGrath, Bush’s spokesman in Houston, said in a brief email that Bush was admitted to the ICU at Methodist Hospital on Sunday. He said doctors are cautiously optimistic about his treatment and that the former president “remains in guarded condition.”
No other details were released about his medical condition, but McGrath said Bush is surrounded by family. Bush has been hospitalized since Nov. 23.
This is relatively small news in the scheme of things but it is worth considering since President Bush complained feverishly of Jimmy Carter attempting to make his life “miserable” during his administration. The idea of an American presidency as a respectable boys club sounds great and would certainly help to fever down the fever swamp of American politics, but that code should apply to everyone:
WASHINGTON – A spokesman for George W. Bush says the former president has declined an invitation from President Barack Obama to attend an observance at New York’s ground zero.
Obama plans to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center towers Thursday in the aftermath of a Navy SEALs raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaida attack, which killed about 3,000 people, occurred in the early months of Bush’s presidency in 2001.
The spokesman, David Sherzer, says the former president appreciated the offer to attend but has chosen to remain out of the spotlight during his post-presidency.
Sherzer says Bush celebrates bin Laden’s death as an “important victory in the war on terror.”
Not to mention, also, that an event as monumentally symbolic as 9/11 really does deserve to be bookended by something as symbolic as the two presidents - George W. Bush and Barack Obama - visiting Ground Zero, paying their respects and helping America move on.
George H.W. Bush Endorses [START] Arms Treaty
By Peter Baker
I urge the United States Senate to ratify the Start treaty… — Former President George H.W. Bush
5:51 p.m. | Updated Former President George H.W. Bush, who signed and won Senate approval of the original Start arms control treaty with the Soviet Union in 1991, endorsed the proposed follow-up treaty with Russia on Wednesday, lending another well-known Republican voice to the White House campaign for approval.
“I urge the United States Senate to ratify the Start treaty,” Mr. Bush said in a one-line statement that offered no elaboration. His spokesman, Jim Appleby, said by telephone that the former president would let his position stand at that and would not discuss whether the White House solicited the endorsement.
President Obama has made approval of the so-called New Start treaty his top foreign policy priority for the lame-duck session of Congress and the pact may be brought to the floor as early as this week if the tax and spending package now before lawmakers is approved quickly. Because treaties require a two-thirds vote for approval, Mr. Obama needs at least nine Republicans to reach 67.
Enough Republican senators have signaled their potential support in recent days to get across that threshold, but the White House hopes to reinforce G.O.P. backing for the treaty and marginalize conservative opponents. Twenty-two Republican senators signed a letter last week arguing against voting on the treaty during the lame-duck session and waiting until the newly elected Senate takes office in January.