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George W. Bush appears to smear Tea Party in biography of George H.W. Bush


W seems to compare Tea Party to anti-civil rights activists, anti-Semites, America Firsters and Birchers.

Getty Images

In an otherwise enjoyable, largely apolitical and at times insightful read, told in the characteristically folksy style that originally endeared President George W. Bush to the nation, the former president in a heretofore ignored passage of his new book, "41: A Portrait of My Father," seems to put down and seek to discredit the Tea Party.

Writing about the 1992 election in which President George H.W. Bush would ultimately lose to then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, and in particular the intra-party challenge posed by commentator and former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan, Bush compares today's Tea Party to a set of ideas that its constituents would likely not condone, and groups with whom it would likely not want to be nor believe it should be associated.

Former President George W. Bush turns to speak with his father and former President George H.W. Bush during the Inaugural Parade 20 January 2005 in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images) Former President George W. Bush turns to speak with his father and former President George H.W. Bush during the Inaugural Parade 20 January 2005 in Washington, DC. (Image Source: AFP/Getty Images) 

Bush writes [emphasis ours]:

Buchanan's basic message was that George Bush had betrayed the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan--a legacy that Republican politicians continue to invoke today, even though some of them overlook the details of Ronald Reagan's record. He attacked the President not only for breaking his "no new taxes" pledge but also for signing the civil rights bill.

Buchanan described the contrast with Dad in his announcement speech. "He is a globalist and we are nationalists. He believes in some pax universalis; we believe in the old republic. He would put America's wealth and power at the service of some vague new world order. We will put America first." Buchanan opposed the Gulf War, which he saw as a sellout to "the Israeli defense ministry and its amen corner in the United States." The message echoed the isolationist position of the America First Committee, which opposed American involvement in World War II. It also reminded me of the Texas far-right movement that I had encountered in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was a forerunner of today's Tea Party. And yet, one out of every three Republicans in New Hampshire was supporting Buchanan.

Under the most charitable interpretation of this passage, and reading the paragraphs separately so as to exclude President Bush's comment about civil rights, Bush seems to be arguing that today's Tea Party is isolationist and extreme in its conservative beliefs.

Reading between the lines however, the implications of Bush's comments about the Tea Party are far worse.

If George W. Bush is in fact comparing Pat Buchanan's position on civil rights to today's Tea Party, the best interpretation of his comments would be that the Tea Party on grounds of the freedom of private individuals and institutions, believes that portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should have been struck down as unconstitutional.

This position has never been broadly articulated by major Tea Party organizations, or its major political figures; Bush might point to comments later retracted by Sen. Rand Paul as evincing such a belief, but one individual does not a party make.

At worst, the implication is that today's Tea Party is retrograde in its views on race, consistent with the progressive portrayal of the group's members as Neo-confederate bigots.

On the "amen corner" Buchanan comment, this echoes the position taken by many anti-Zionists if not outright anti-Semites on the left and right who argue that American foreign policy is controlled by the nefarious "Israel lobby."

While there are certainly libertarians and conservatives in the Tea Party with diverse views on U.S. foreign policy, on what is in America's national interest, and related issues like foreign aid to allies like Israel, one imagines that it would be news to evangelicals and others in the Tea Party who are staunchly pro-Israel, that they condone Buchanan's views as articulated on the first Gulf War.

With respect to Bush's raising the specter of the America First Committee, it is hard to see how this comparison is not pejorative and intended to discredit the Tea Party.

Charles Lindbergh speaking at an America First Committee rally. (Image Source: www.charleslindbergh.com) Charles Lindbergh speaking at an America First Committee rally. (Image Source: www.charleslindbergh.com)

The kindest implication here is that Tea Party members are unwilling to undertake the fight for Western civilization against totalitarians hellbent on destroying freedom, like the Nazis of yesteryear, on principle of avoiding foreign entanglements.

However, and more importantly, the subtext here is that there was an anti-Semitic tinge to the America First Committee, which included among its members certain dubious individuals and groups who were openly anti-Jewish.

Even if one were to argue that the America First Committee was overwhelmingly comprised of principled opponents to American intervention in World War II, such a position looks at best hugely flawed on the basis of history, and again, even the perception of the America First Committee as being anti-Semitic and/or xenophobic discredits the Tea Party.

Lastly, with respect to the "far-right" groups that President Bush encountered in Texas, it appears he is alluding to two sets of people he references earlier in "41," namely Jon Birch society members, and potentially those who opposed the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which George H.W. Bush supported over staunch opposition within his Texas congressional district.

Needless to say, being compared to Birchers, and again the implication that Tea Partiers are akin to those with views hostile to civil rights, is not a flattering picture to paint.

George W. Bush's "41: A Portrait of My Father" is a fine story of a man in President George H.W. Bush who had one of the most storied and successful careers of any politician in the nation's history. It also contains lessons relevant for all interested in politics, regardless of one's ideology. Lastly, it portrays George H.W. Bush as living up to a set of commendable values and virtues to which all public servants should aspire.

But this argument put forth by George W. Bush with respect to the Tea Party, along with several other interjections sprinkled throughout "41," including for example Bush's gratuitous aside on the damage done by intransigent Republicans who "shut down the government," undermines an otherwise enjoyable and entertaining read.


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