New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, considering the charges of racism and hate-mongering lodged against GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, asks: “Did Democrats cry wolf so many times before Trump that no one hears or heeds them now?” He quotes Democratic communications maven Howard Wolfson, who worked on the campaigns of John F. Kerry and Hillary Clinton, as concluding there is some truth to the charge.
There has been pushback against this heresy in the world of Acela journalism, mostly on Twitter, but most notably from Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post. Cillizza asserted:
First, while the rhetoric about George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney was overheated at times — and there are certainly anecdotes to be mined in each case — they never faced anything close to the consistent drumbeat of accusations about racism, sexism, demagoguery or fascism, as Trump has.
Bush was painted as not particularly bright, as deceiving the country into going to war, and later on as being uncaring in the face of Hurricane Katrina. Kanye West intoned during a Katrina benefit show that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” but the idea that Bush was a racist, demagogue, or fascist was never widely circulated.
Were You Around for the Bush Years?
I am not sure where Cillizza was during the Bush administration. During the controversy over Bush’s Electoral College win, Jesse Jackson claimed the Bush campaign had used “Nazi tactics” and his brother Jeb had targeted Holocaust victims (part of a history of Jackson’s Nazi analogies).
Antiwar demonstrations routinely featured “Bush as Hitler” imagery. Iconic columnist Jimmy Breslin directly compared Bush’s speech at the outset of the Iraq War to one Hitler gave when launching World War II. Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter compared the invasion of Iraq to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Ralph Nader quoted Michael Kinsley as claiming “in terms of the power he now claims, George W. Bush is now the closest thing in a long time to dictator of the world.”
Cindy Sheehan, who was afforded “absolute moral authority” and passels of pixels to attack the Bush administration after she lost her son Casey in Iraq, compared Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Hitler and Stalin. Sen. John Glenn, acting as a surrogate for Kerry’s 2004 campaign, compared alleged GOP misstatements to the propaganda of Nazi Germany. Progressive mega-financier George Soros made similar claims regarding GOP propaganda.
Sen. Robert Byrd, ironically a former Klansman, launched such attacks more than once. Al Gore accused the Bush administration of working with “digital brownshirts” to suppress dissent from the media. Rep. Keith Ellison compared the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 to the Reichstag fire that assisted Hitler’s rise to power. Television producer Ed Gernon was fired from the CBS miniseries, “Hitler: The Rise of Evil,” after telling the media that Bush’s post-9/11 policies and the popular support for them were reminiscent of—you guessed it—Nazi Germany.
Newsweek later proclaimed that, with respect to the NSA eavesdropping program, “We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.” Slate’s Jacob Weisberg asked whether Bush was turning America into an elected dictatorship. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, in full self-righteous dudgeon, called Bush a fascist during one of Olbermann’s famous “Special Comments.”
Chris Matthews chatted with far-left propagandist Michael Moore about the idea of trying the administration Nuremberg-style for waging the Iraq War. Former Gore adviser Naomi Wolf wrote that Bush was taking all the steps necessary to create a fascist America. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s “The Great Unraveling” featured a jacket with Dick Cheney sporting a Hitler-esque mustache made of oil.
In “Liberal Fascism,” Jonah Goldberg notes that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. compared the Bush years to the rise of Mussolini, while Norman Mailer called America a “pre-fascist society,” and renowned political scientist Theodore Lowi called the Republicans “friendly fascists.” Andrew Sullivan, who bows to no man regarding hysterical hyperbole, saw nascent dictatorship even in the Bush administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Did You Watch a Movie or Listen to Music Then?
Cillizza did manage to recall Kanye’s televised attack on Bush. But West was far from alone among those in pop culture and the arts attacking Bush and other GOP nominees. That list includes, but is not limited to Linda Ronstadt, Tony Bennett, Black Sabbath, and Madonna (who likened McCain to Hitler, among other dictators).
When the antiwar group World Can’t Wait ran a full-page ad in USA Today comparing Bush to Hitler and claimed “[t]he Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come,” it was signed by Ed Asner, Ed Begley Jr., Harry Belafonte, Gabriel Byrne, Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michael Eric Dyson, Steve Earle, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jane Fonda, Paul Haggis, Kathleen Hanna, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Rickie Lee Jones, Casey Kasem, Ron Kovic, Jonathan Kozol, Jessica Lange, Lewis Lapham, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Tom Morello, Rep. Major Owens, Harvey Pekar, Sean Penn, Harold Pinter, Mark Ruffalo, Rep. Bobby Rush, Susan Sarandon, Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Sheen, Gloria Steinem, Studs Terkel, Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Rep. Maxine Waters, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn—to name a few.
In 2005, Rep. Charlie Rangel claimed “George Bush is our Bull Connor,” referring to the Birmingham, Alabama police commissioner who in 1963 turned fire hoses and attack dogs on blacks and other civil rights protesters, including Martin Luther King Jr. (Note: Connor was a Democrat.) This absurd charge received thunderous applause at a Congressional Black Caucus town hall meeting attended by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and some of Rangel’s colleagues in the House. If the establishment press ever asked Obama or Clinton about Rangel’s inflammatory speech—as any Republican would be about a similarly offensive slander—I could find no record of it.
Or Maybe You Weren’t Reading Newspapers
Cillizza may be partially correct to claim there was less of a drumbeat of such claims against McCain and Romney. Of course, that assertion overlooks that neither of those men became president, and both campaigns were likely quite aware they could be attacked as racists while running against Obama. But even a few moments with a search engine would have revealed Rep. John Lewis comparing McCain rallies to those held by George Wallace.
And Ezra Klein asserting a McCain campaign video looked like “an over-the-top parody of fascist campaign propaganda from a movie, and sounds like Triumph of the Will.” And Josh Marshall claiming that McCain’s ad painting Obama as a celebrity candidate was intended to link Obama to “oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women.” And the media debate over the seminal question of whether McCain referring to Obama as “that one” was racist. And the Obama campaign’s claim that McCain was playing racial politics for daring to suggest that Obama was preemptively accusing him and the GOP generally of racism.
Again, this list is hardly comprehensive. Perhaps Cillizza and people like him do not remember the sort of horse manure progressives spread about Republican nominees in every election cycle precisely because it is so ridiculous and embarrassing to the Left. Or perhaps these comments do not strike the establishment media as scandalous simply because Democrats made them.
Or perhaps Cillizza and others have failed to hear this drumbeat because the drum sounded so softly on the pages of Acela journalism. To be sure, some of the Democratic attacks mentioned above were reported by CBS, CNN, and even the Washington Post, but none received the national media firestorm that comments from Republicans like senatorial candidate Todd Akin would. To the contrary, the Washington Post’s mention of Glenn’s Nazi analogy was tossed off in the final paragraph of a story as a comment of trivial consequence.
Maybe Your Sources Are Biased
Beltway journalists largely live in the world where polls about GOP birthers are hyped immediately (despite birtherism originating with Clinton supporters) but the majority of Democrats who thought Bush was complicit in the 9/11 attacks does not get blurbed until 2011.
The media rightly excoriated Trump for not immediately disavowing the Klan in a television interview. In contrast, The New York Times, Chris Matthews, and many others gushed when Obama delivered a prepared speech in which he generally criticized the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but largely avoided explaining his longstanding membership in a church preaching black identity politics, and asserted he could no more disown Wright than he could the black community or his white grandmother.
Of course, Wright then went on a media tour so typically odious that Obama dumped him for good a month later. The Acela press also cheered that move and generally avoided mentioning the flip-flop, except perhaps as evidence of Obama’s keen political instincts.
Republicans, on the other hand, live in the world where all of those irresponsible attacks by Democrats are ignored or downplayed by the national media. They live in the world where the double-standards of the Democrat apparat and the establishment media (Do I repeat myself?) are glaring. They note that the establishment media routinely goes easy on remarks by Democrats that would be multi-day sagas and possible career-enders if uttered by a Republican.
They live in the world in which it was a minor story when Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd including many African-Americans that Romney would “put y’all back in chains” by unshackling Wall Street. They know Biden said that after skating on his remark that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
They recognize that when Hillary Clinton cannot tell you about a meaningful conversation with her black friends, but can say they have tried to expand her musical tastes, it does not seem to generate the same sort of press it would coming out of a GOP nominee’s mouth. In this world, it is not remotely surprising that many Republicans have stopped taking the Democrat-Big Media axis as seriously during its pious sermons on fascism or racism.
Frank Bruni has noticed the world Republicans have seen for decades. Democratic consultant Wolfson sees it. Cillizza and much of the establishment media, however, are yet to get woke.