CNN’s Wednesday night Republican debate, with its emphasis on personal animosity and weird answers about women on the $10 bill, provided plenty of entertainment value for political junkies and late night hosts. But the most consequential moment of the evening was a jaw-dropper of a lie that Jeb Bush told during one of the boring stretches in the middle of the three-hour slog.
In a bit of ugly sparring over who did or did not support the Iraq War, Jeb Bush, in a moment of pique, jumped in with, “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe.”
The audience, comprised of Republican primary voters went nuts, and so Bush doubled down on his claim that having 3,000 citizens die from a terrorist attack — the largest in American history — “kept us safe.”
“You remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around it?,” he railed. “He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism and he did keep us safe.”
Liberals on Twitter, including myself, sternly disagreed that safety was maintained if you’re standing on a pile of rubble where, just hours before, one of the largest office buildings in the world had stood. In the grander scheme of things, it’s also hard to really buy the idea that safety was best secured by using this terrible terrorist attack as a pretense to start an irrelevant war in Iraq that diverted resources from actually fighting terrorism. Not to say, it’s questionable that anyone is kept safe by the fallout from that war, which led to the deaths of almost half a million people and stoked instability and resentment against the United States.
Oh yeah, and it was Barack Obama, not George W. “Keep Us Safe” Bush, that actually found and killed Osama Bin Laden. You know, the guy behind that firefighter-festooned pile of rubble Jeb Bush remembers so fondly?
Perhaps Jeb Bush thought it was Opposite Day at the Reagan Library. He certainly wouldn’t be the only candidate up there saying things that were diametrically opposed to truth.
It’s tempting to write the entire exchange off, from a political perspective, as little more than pandering to Republican primary voters, who want to hear how they are great people who did the right thing by supporting such an atrocious failure of a president as George W. Bush. But it actually revealed what is likely to become a bigger issue in the race, as the vanity candidates like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and perhaps even Donald Trump fade from view, and the field narrows down to those who have institutional support, mainly Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
Is Bush going to be able to shake off his brother’s legacy? If foreign policy were on the back burner, Republicans might be able to holler about abortion long and loud enough to distract voters from the memory of the terrible, pointless war George W. Bush started.
But as it stands, the current Republican strategy to poke at Hillary Clinton and the Democrats is to rattle the war sabers and declare that Iran is going to kill us all unless you put a big manly man Republican in the White House. The rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of the exact same rhetoric used to hoodwink a nation into sending its soldiers, and billions upon billions of dollars, into quashing non-existent threat of nuclear war in Iraq.
If Jeb Bush really wants people to think he’s different from his brother, he needs to distinguish himself from his brother’s greatest legacy, the doomed-to-fail adventure war in Iraq. Instead, he has decided he’s going to defend his brother, apparently by setting up immediately disprovable lies that only appeal to die-hard Republicans. That “kept us safe” line might work in the Reagan Library, but Hillary Clinton in a debate is going to have quite the rejoinder to it.