THE BLOG
01/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bush Flack Spouts Nonsense While Touting Success of Presidency

Last Monday, RealClearPolitics provided a forum for Bush White House Counselor Ed Gillespie to dissemble on "Myths and Facts About the Real Bush Record." This document should serve political science instructors well in the future as the epitome of dead end political propaganda.

I have not seen any debunking of this nonsense, so let me give it a try.

Gillespie is quite a piece of work. According to his Wikipedia entry, he rose from a Senate parking lot attendant to work as a "top aide" to Dick Armey and as a "principal drafter" of the 1994 Contract with America.

When his planned involvement in the George Allen Presidential campaign imploded, Gillespie joined the Bush Administration in 2007 and filled the b.s. vacuum caused by the departure of Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett. He was in charge of selling the surge and, most famously, wrote a letter objecting when NBC's Richard Engle had the temerity to ask Bush questions about Iran that were less deferential than W's usual fare, claiming that NBC had unfairly edited Bush's answer. This was the start of the War on NBC, escalated by Hillary Clinton and, regrettably IMHO, continued in this space by Jason Linkins (item 6 and, pretty much, item 5).

When I think of myths about the Bush administration, I think of things like the assertions that the President actually reads serious books or that he has the intellectual ability to weigh policy choices on their merits. However, this is not what Gillespie means. Instead he attempts to rebut five selectively phrased negative "myths" that Bush was bad for the economy and that Bush's foreign policy has failed.

Let's take two, one domestic and one international. Gillespie's second myth is that "President Bush's tax cuts only benefitted[sic] the wealthy and were paid for by sacrificing investments in health care and education." Note the clever insertion of the word "only." According to a March 2007 report of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, this is technically correct, since through 2010, the top 1% in income "only" will receive 33% of the benefit and the top 5% would receive 47.1%.

That is not 100%, so the cuts did not only benefit the rich, right? All in all, the top 20% received over 70% of the benefit and the bottom 20% received 1%.

Gillespie argues that the tax cuts increased revenue, a familiar supply side claim. This is a difficult one to pin down as available statistics do not seem to be very current and the continual expansion of the economy except at the very worst times (like now) generally causes revenues to rise. In early 2007, Paul Krugman offered these graphs showing that as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, federal revenues were about back to where they started when Bush took over, which seems to debunk Gillespie's claim.

On the foreign policy front, Gillespie pretends to disprove the myth that "[t]he President's 'go it alone' foreign policy ruined America's standing in the world."

First, he states that to deny that a "multi-national coalition of partner nations" removed Sadaam from power is "a distortion of history." Let's see.

There are a lot of different numbers on the Internet, but it seems like there were 248,000 Americans in the initial invasion and 45,000 British. The next largest contingent was 2000 Australians with even smaller groups from Spain (1,300), Denmark (500) and Poland (194). There were also 70,000 Kurdish militia members in the North.

Other countries participated in the occupation, but the most telling statistic is that 4,217 Americans have died and only 316 from other nations according to icasualties.com. This has not been a broadly shared international effort. It has been well documented that much of the participation by other nations was secured through bribes or intimidation.

Moreover, this misses the point. Leaving aside the counterproductive effect on our efforts to stem Islamic terrorism, the problem is that the world has seen America as a crude bully. Gillespie does not even discuss this, but rather talks about treaties that have been reached with various governments.

With all its talk about spreading democracy, the Bush Administration should recognize that world public opinion is the correct measure of the United States' "standing in the world." The Dark Side by Jane Mayer demonstrates how the Abu Ghraib public relations disaster was not a result of poor supervision of restless soldiers far from home. Rather, it was produced by official policies to humiliate and torture pretty much anyone we wanted to.

Instead of relying on experienced interrogators, the U.S. turned to people who taught our soldiers how to resist torture, to instead use the techniques they had learned to interrogate others. Waterboarding aside, the CIA routinely and with official approval, brutally kidnapped victims, stripped them of their clothing and forced them remain for hours or days in stress positions in ice cold or unbearably hot rooms. They beat them mercilessly, killing several.

I can't do Mayer's account justice here, but the bottom line is that those in charge of Gitmo were brought to Iraq to toughen up interrogation there, centered at Abu Ghraib. "Ghost" prisoners, brought in to be abused, were not even booked in or out. There were no rules, as we saw in the pictures. When one of the ghost prisoners died in CIA hands, soldiers posed grinning with the corpse.

All of this was the result of a deliberate flouting of our Constitution and statues by the Bush Administration, led by David Addington and John Yoo.

The decline of our standing in the world caused by our actions in Iraq is not a myth. Gillespie necessarily does not even mention any of these activities. Before the war, the neo-con line was that our toughness would be respected, but today it is impossible to argue that with a straight face, so Gillespie does not even try.

Truly, we cannot get rid of these people quickly enough.