Progressive Vision Failure: The Real Scandal of Bush’s Knesset Speech

There has been much throwing about of brains in the "progressosphere" about George W. Bush's shocking and unseemly injection of – gasp! – partisanship into his address to the Israeli Knesset the other day.  Evidently this was the first time in American history that a president has ever indulged in such un-statesmanlike behavior while gadding about in foreign parts. And what exactly did Bush do, what was this act of unprecedented moral and political depravity? Brace yourself: he made a remark that could be construed as an implied criticism of Barack Obama.

Now, it so happens that there was indeed a very grave and sinister scandal in Bush's appearance before the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding. But it had nothing to do with his witless ejaculation of that clapped-out right-wing trope of yore: the "Neville Chamberlain gambit," in which anyone who fails to evince sufficient eagerness to immediately obliterate Washington's designated enemy of the day is accused of "appeasement," paving the way for the next Hitler, etc. No; the real scandal lies elsewhere. But the fact that it was universally ignored, in favor of starchy outrage over the non-issue of Bush's remark, tells us a great deal about the clueless – and gutless – nature of so much of what passes for political dissent in America today.

(Continued after the jump.)

We will get to the genuine outrage shortly, but first let's cut through some of the starch. The reaction of Will Bunch, who writes the Attywood blog for the Philadelphia Daily News, is a good example of the overwrought reaction that greeted Bush's typically bug-eyed reading of the words that someone put on the autocue for him. This is the offending passage, which Bunch took from this CNN story:

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," said Bush, in what White House aides privately acknowledged was a reference to calls by Obama and other Democrats for the U.S. president to sit down for talks with leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"We have heard this foolish delusion before,” Bush said in remarks to the Israeli Knesset. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

That's it. A tired, ludicrous, irrelevant and meaningless analogy, from the most unpopular president in American history –  a despised, pathetic wretch whose words sway no one beyond a fanatic minority of zealots – and a cynical, profit-seeking elite -- already committed to his murderous vision. The speech will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the presidential race. It tells us nothing that we don't already know about the Bush gang's lust for war with Iran, a nation the gang has long painted in the colors of Nazi Germany.

But because this pointless regurgitation contained a dig at the likely Democratic nominee, Bunch calls it an act of "political treason." In fact, in a truly remarkable – and to me genuinely shocking – outburst, he says that Bush's tweaking of Obama in the speech was actually worse than the Watergate scandal, the Iran-Contra scandal, and all of the Bush Regime's own depredations in the past seven years, including the "flagrant disregard for the Constitution, the launching of a 'pre-emptive' war on false pretenses, and discussions about torture and other shocking abuses inside the White House inner sanctum." All of this -- crime, deceit, mass murder in a war of aggression -- pales in comparison to Bush's Knesset speech, which Bunch calls "a new low that I never imagined was even possible."

I don't want to pick on Bunch. He seems like a nice guy, and he has worked hard over the years in detailing some of the outrages of the Bush Regime. But I must confess that I simply cannot comprehend the mindset that would lead to such a statement. Bush goading Obama in an overseas appearance is a "new low"? Worse than torture? Worse than unrestricted spying on the American people? Worse than the subversion of the electoral process in Watergate (not to mention the 2000 and 2004 campaigns)? Worse than running guns to the Iranian mullahs to help fund a terrorist insurgency in Nicaragua? Worse than aggressive war launched on false pretenses? Worse than a million people dead and more than four million driven from their homes? What kind of moral algebra could lead to such a conclusion? How could anything that Bush says at this point be worse than what he has already done?

Part of it stems,  I think, from the deeply ingrained and deeply self-righteous "American exceptionalism" that characterizes most "progressive" viewpoints. What we have here, first, is the temporary insanity that afflicts almost all partisans during an election year, in which the slightest perturbation on the American political scene far outweighs any other event in moral importance. Second, there is the upsurge of patriotic bunkum that arises during presidential campaigns, where partisanship so often wraps itself in the robes of a violated idealism.  Witness the quivering sanctimony of Bunch's indignation (and try not to let the humming chorus of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" – from, say, the soundtrack of "Doctor Strangelove" – drown out the prose as you read):

As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a President of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.

Of course, there are differences of opinion on how America should handle Iran, and that's why we're having an election here at home, to sort these issues out -- hopefully with respect and not with emotional and inaccurate appeals….[Here Bunch accurately describes the hypocrisy of Bush's remarks in respect to other American dealings with Libya and, indeed, Iran. Then the bunkum kicks into overdrive.]

But what Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives.

We are Americans.

O, e pluribus unum! Let the mighty eagle soar! Yeah, we may mix it up a little bit, but at the end of the day we are all one, we are all….family.

One can only assume that Bunch has not been reading his own admirable pieces for the past several years. Or anything else for that matter. Throughout this entire decade, the public "debate" has been packed to the rafters with fierce excommunications of Bush regime critics as "un-American," not "real Americans," not "one of us," "traitors," "enemies"  and so on and so forth. (My own in-box has groaned with such messages for years. Indeed, if I had a dollar for every time I've been told by a fellow American that I am not their fellow American, I could probably run for president myself. At least for a week or two. I imagine that Bunch, writing for a much larger public platform, has gotten even more of this kind of  hysterical shunning.) Yet still the bunkum goes on:

And you, Mr. Bush, are the leader of us all. To use a diplomatic setting on foreign soil to score a cheap political point at home is way beneath your office, way beneath your country, and way beneath the people you serve. You have been handed an office once uplifted to great heights by fellow countrymen from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Eisenhower, and have plunged it so deeply into the Karl-Rove- and-Rush-Limbaugh-fueled world of political destruction and survival of all costs that [you] have lost all perspective -- and all sense of decency. To travel to Israel and to associate a sitting American senator and your possible successor in the Oval Office with those who at one time gave comfort to an enemy of the United States is, in and of itself, an act of political treason.

"You, Mr. Bush, are the leader of us all." I can't say for sure, of course, but I would bet good money that not once in the last five years (if not longer) has Will Bunch ever felt in his heart, even for a nano-second, that Bush is "the leader of us all." I would imagine that Bunch, like any sentient being, has long considered Bush to be a willfully ignorant preppy thug who cheated his way into office, where he has gleefully spit and shat upon the Constitution, the rule of law and all human decency. And I know for a fact – from the very post examined here  – that Bunch considers Bush a war criminal who launched an act of aggression on false pretenses. So why does Bunch – and the other progressives shocked at Bush's speech – engage in false pretenses of their own? Why pretend that this bloodstained husk is some kind of legitimate figure, and be outraged when he fails to respect the niceties of some idealized vision of American politics, or lowers the "dignity of his office"?

And why engage in the same kind of historical ignorance that Bush's statement reeks of? Bunch says that Bush compared Obama to "those who at one time gave comfort to an enemy of the United States." Presumably, he is referring to Neville Chamberlain and others who negotiated with Hitler before the war. But Hitler was not "an enemy of the United States" until he declared war on America in December 1941, in fulfillment of his military pact with Japan. Thus anyone who held talks with Hitler prior to December 1941 was not "giving comfort to an enemy of the United States." Yes, I know Bunch is trying to turn Bush's own words against him, to say, "you call Obama an appeaser, but you are committing treason yourself!" But "appeasement," though it might be foolish or ineffectual in particular circumstances, is not treason. Nor did Bush claim it was. And for God's sake, criticizing a political opponent – even in the hallowed precincts of a foreign legislature – is not treason in any sense, not even metaphorically.

And speaking of historical ignorance, should we now take up the vast field of crime, folly, and "political destruction and survival at all costs" that has historically characterized the "dignity of the office" of president, which Bush has supposedly lowered? No; life is too short. Let's leave that fascinating topic aside for now and move on.

As we said, at the core of the mindset represented by Bunch's post is a fierce partisanship disguised as idealism. To test this, let's perform a brief thought experiment. Imagine that Barack Obama, not George Bush, is president of the United States. Imagine that President Obama went to Israel and spoke to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the nation's founding. Imagine that upon that solemn occasion, President Obama spoke on this wise:

"Some seem to believe that violence, or the ever-present threat of violence, should always be at the forefront of our dealings with those nations with whom we have serious disagreements -- as if pointing a gun at someone's head is the best way to win hearts and minds," said Obama, in what White House aides privately acknowledged was a reference to calls by presidential candidate John McCain and other Republicans for military action against Iran.

"But I believe we should follow the insights of that great statesman and military leader, Winston Churchill, who said: 'Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.' We have an obligation to pursue every possible avenue for peaceful resolution – and pursue them in good faith, with genuine commitment and unstinting effort – before we ever consider drawing the terrible sword of war. History teaches us the monstrous consequences of making violence a key instrument of national policy. We need only look at the unspeakable evils unleashed by Nazi Germany, or the agony today in Iraq, to see the cruel folly of opposing Churchill's abiding wisdom on this point."

What would Will Bunch and the progressosphere have said to such a speech? Would they have condemned Obama for "political treason," for lowering the dignity of his office by launching a "cheap" partisan dig at a domestic political opponent during a speech abroad? Would they shuddered with revulsion at his invocation of Nazi Germany for political purposes – in the Israeli parliament, of all places?

No, of course not. They would have praised his bold stance against the warmongers back home – and the warmongers in Israel. They would have hailed his subtle dig at McCain: "another brilliant example of the artful blending of political pragmatism and genuine idealism that has been a hallmark of Obama's presidency." They would have applauded his reference to World War II: "I doubt if a single member of the Knesset was left unmoved when Obama evoked the 'unspeakable evils' of Nazi Germany. I know there were tears in my eyes as I watched that portion of the speech on YouTube. That's precisely the kind of deep, learned historical perspective – tempered always with the human touch, the empathy toward others – that has made this president so unique." In short, they would have lauded such a speech, if the content and speaker had been different. It is certainly not the non-existent principle of non-partisan presidential decorum in foreign appearances that has so vexed them in this case.

Every time a president speaks on foreign soil – every single time, in every administration – there is a domestic political angle somewhere in the mix. Every time a president goes abroad and praises his own policies or viewpoints, he is attacking his domestic critics, either directly or by implication. There is nothing unusual or heinous about the practice; it is inevitable, and unavoidable, if a president says anything more than "Happy to be here" on a foreign visit. Even in the most idealized world of ever-dignified presidents representing a unified people who always put aside their sharp elbows and come together in the end, Bush's flaccid rhetoric at the Knesset would not represent a scandal or outrage of any kind.

But the progressive hissy fit over Bush's speech has provided a massive distraction from the real scandal of his appearance before the Knesset, and his reference to Nazi Germany: the fact that this mass-murdering wager of aggressive war would not have been standing before the Knesset at all – if not for his own family’s extensive, and profitable, role in the rise of the Nazi war machine. A role which continued not only after “Nazi tanks crossed into Poland” (where Bush family investments helped finance the concentration camp at Auschwitz) but even after Nazi forces were killing American troops in North Africa.

As Toby Rogers noted in his landmark 2002 piece for Clamor magazine, “Heir to the Holocaust,” which pulled together the vast amount of documentary evidence of the Bush-Walker clan’s intimate and instrumental connection to the Nazis:

According to classified documents from Dutch intelligence and US government archives, President George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush made considerable profits off Auschwitz slave labor. In fact, President Bush himself is an heir to these profits from the holocaust which were placed in a blind trust in 1980 by his father, former president George Herbert Walker Bush.

Throughout the Bush family's decades of public life, the American press has gone out of its way to overlook one historical fact – that through Union Banking Corporation (UBC), Prescott Bush, and his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, along with [their business partner] German industrialist Fritz Thyssen, financed Adolf Hitler before and during World War II.

Rogers’ article – and other pieces such as the stories published in 2003 by John Buchanan in the New Hampshire Gazette -- provide the devastating details of this sorry history, including the seizure of some of the Bush family’s Nazi assets under the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1942 – and their subsequent pulling of elitist strings to keep these genuinely treasonous dealings out of the public eye….and even profit from them after the war, when the family and its partners were allowed to liquidate their share of the seized foreign assets:

Prescott Bush received $1.5 million for his share in UBC. That money enabled Bush to help his son, George Herbert Walker Bush, to set up his first royalty firm, Overby Development Company, that same year. It was also helpful when Prescott Bush left the business world to enter the public arena in 1952 with a successful senatorial campaign in Connecticut. On October 8th, 1972, Prescott Bush died of cancer and his will was enacted soon after.

In 1980, when George H.W. Bush was elected vice president, he placed his father's family inherence in a blind trust. The trust was managed by his old friend and quail hunting partner, William "Stamps" Farish III. Bush's choice of Farish to manage the family wealth is quite revealing in that it demonstrates that the former president might know exactly where some of his inheritance originated. Farish's grandfather, William Farish Jr., on March 25th, 1942, pleaded "no contest" to conspiring with Nazi Germany while president of Standard Oil in New Jersey. He was described by Senator Harry Truman in public of approaching "treason" for profiting off the Nazi war machine. Standard Oil, invested millions in IG Farben, who opened a gasoline factory within Auschwitz in 1940.

Farish had signed a deal with the Nazis on secret patents for synthesizing rubber. Hitler couldn't have gone to war without it. Even after America entered the war, Farish stood by his Nazi partners and refused to share these precious trade secrets with the U.S. government, despite the American military's dire need for rubber.

None of this means that Bush’s grandfather was a Nazi. This is simply the way the American elite have always functioned. Ideology, morality, patriotism, law – all must give way to the relentless and ruthless pursuit of wealth, and the power and privilege and dominance wealth brings. Prescott Bush traded with the Nazis, even when they were killing Americans, because there was money in it. For the same reason, his son, Prescott Jr., has long been a leading figure in trading with the repressive communist regime in China (as have Dubya's brother Neil -- and Don Rumsfeld too, for that matter.). For the same reason, Prescott Senior's other son, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his son, George Walker Bush, have long had extensive and intimate business ties with the violent religious extremists in Saudi Arabia, and with a number of other tyrants throughout the Middle East and around the world.

It seems astonishing that in a media culture in which the slightest youthful peccadillo and most remote family history of a presidential candidate or office-holder are exhumed and examined in microscopic detail, the Bush family’s documented and indisputable involvement in the rise of Hitler and his machine of aggressive war has never come to the attention of the general public. But because such truths expose the reality of the elites who control the commanding heights of American society – and give the bitter lie to bubbly effusions of American exceptionalism, to pious, comforting fantasies about unifying leaders of us all carrying out their awesome and solemn responsibilities with unshakeable dignity – they remain forever outside the purview of “serious” discourse. Anything that genuinely challenges the prevailing pieties that mask the murderous operations of empire and oligarchy must be ignored, or mocked, scorned and marginalized (as we have seen in the controversy over Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright). If in those very rare instances when the challenge is too powerful to be ignored or trivialized, then it must be physically destroyed, as in the case of Martin Luther King Jr. -- or even George Wallace, who presented a dangerous challenge to elite rule from the right (threatening the race-based “Southern strategy” of the Nixon campaign) and was eliminated from the national scene by the assassination attempt in 1972 which left him crippled.

The only scandal attendant on Bush’s speech last week was the fact that this unrepentant beneficiary of Nazi blood money – who has himself aped the Nazis in his own policies of aggressive war, state terror and lawless authoritarianism -- was allowed to stand before a foreign legislature and prate about freedom and liberty and “fighting evil.” And this is just part of a larger scandal: that he has been allowed to walk free among decent people without facing the slightest threat of justice for his crime, enjoying what is perhaps the chief privilege of his class – the immunity from all consequences of his malevolent actions.

But to the progressosphere, Bush’s little indirect dig at Obama was far more scandalous than any of this; indeed, it was a “new low” in our national life. Of such tunnel-visioned self-delusion is our “progressive movement” made. Afraid to speak the truth, or unable to see it when it is in front of their eyes: no wonder the “progressives” have been unable to stop the Regime’s monstrous crimes, or rally public support for impeachment, or turn the tide of national policy away from empire, dominion and injustice – a destructive tide that Obama, Clinton and McCain are happy to keep riding to their own positions of power, wealth and privilege.