I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Political Dialogue in the 1990s

Defenders of the Bush Administration have resorted with increasing whininess to complaining about the impropriety of Democratic attacks on George Bush. Current criticism of Bush is not just misguided, we are told, but destructive, beyond the bounds of decency, and unpatriotic. Many people now seem to share the view expressed by Zell Miller in his quite well-written and well-delivered speech at the GOP Convention, when he characterized anti-Bush activism among Democrats as a "manic obsession to bring down our Commander-in-Chief."

After a decade of being relentlessly subjected to the most scurrilous, boundless, gutter accusations against Bill Clinton, emanating from the very same people now prissily complaining about the distastefulness of the anti-Bush criticisms, it is hard to believe that anyone takes such complaints seriously. But just in case, it is worth noting every now and then exactly what the tenor and substance was of the anti-Clinton attacks.

Here are just a few samplers which I ran into entirely by accident while looking for something completely unrelated. This type of trashy anti-Clinton invective was so common that one need not look for it in order to find it. Indeed, it was the predominant method for criticizing Clinton by the entire Republican establishment throughout the duration of his Presidency -- beginning the minute he took office and worsening every day:

First, here is the upstanding patriot Rep. Duke Cunningham, sharing his views of Congressional liberals back in 1992 (via Marty Kaplan at HP):

Cunningham makes the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column by suggesting the liberal leadership of the House should be "lined up and shot."

And here is Rep. Cunningham sharing some of his thoughts on then-Democratic Presidential nominee Bill Clinton, less than one month before Clinton's election as President (via Daily Howler):

The Los Angeles Times quotes Cunningham as urging President Bush to attack Bill Clinton's patriotism, telling him: "This is an issue that will kill Clinton when people realize what a traitor he is to this country. In some countries, if something like this came out, he would be tried as a traitor. Tokyo Rose had nothing over Clinton."

I searched for instances of any Republicans repudiating either comment, but did not find any.

Next, we have a summary of a randomly selected day - July 19, 1995 - on the Rush Limbaugh Show, piped into the homes and minds of 20 million Americans each day. Maintained by one of Rush's fans, the daily summary lists some of the important topics covered by Rush on that day, long before anyone knew Monica Lewinsky's name:

* Webster Hubbell testifies at Senate Whitewater hearings;

* Republicans demonstrate how difficult it would be for Nussbaum to find Foster's suicide note as he claimed;

* caller asks why there is so little coverage about the Whitewater hearings;

* Webster Hubbell warned Bernard Nussbaum to stay away from the Foster investigation;

* media ignores that Hubbell testified that he kept Whitewater files from the 1992 Presidential campaign in his home;

* NYTimes points out that Robert Fiske was wrong when he concluded that there was no evidence Vincent Foster was concerned about Whitewater in early 1993.

So, in essence, the 20 million Rush listeners that day learned that the Clinton Administration had Vince Foster murdered because he knew too much about the Clintons' Whitewater crimes, and the White House then lied and covered up the murder by faking his suicide, as evidenced by the White House counsel, Bernard Nussbaum, lying about how he found Foster's fictitious "suicide note."

And all of that . . . just in one day. There's plenty more of it in the transcript for the next Rush day, if you can stomach it.

And all of that is, of course, independent of Monica's sperm-stained dress, and the spots on Clinton's penis, and his waging war in order to distract from his domestic problems, and Hillary's lesbianism, and her affair with Vince Foster, and Clinton's draft-dodging, and on and on and on . . . .

Just contemplate the level of outrage if a Democratic Congressman today said this:

"the conservative leadership of the House should be lined up and shot."

or this:

"This is an issue that will kill Bush when people realize what a traitor he is to this country. In some countries, if something like this came out, he would be tried as a traitor. Tokyo Rose had nothing over Bush."

And yet that's exactly what a huge portion of this country heard, day in and day out, for 8 years, about Bill Clinton. And they heard it from the very same people who, today, continue to lead a Republican Party which can't stop complaining that criticism of George Bush is somehow so improper and offensive that it is like nothing we've ever seen before and constitutes a threat to the very existence of the Republic.

I wonder if they remember what they were saying and doing in the 1990s and find it funny that they now hold themselves out as Beacons of Elevated Political Discourse, or if they block out what they did and don't realize how absurd it is for them to be playing that role.

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