Martin Dyckman: Debate reveals Jeb Bush’s deficit of reality

The Republican debates say a lot about who shouldn’t be president but almost nothing about which of the 16 might deserve to be. For all but a few moments, the tedious brawl last week was to good government as a demolition derby is to auto safety.

It’s hard to disagree with Marco Rubio’s take on the event.

“We had a three-hour debate, no discussion about the national debt, very little about the economy, It was a constant he-said-she-said, what do you say because so-and-so called you this name or that name,” Rubio said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The economy actually was mentioned a few times, but only in passing. Otherwise, the common purposes among most of those on stage were simply to take down each other and voice contempt for President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Jeb Bush’s ambitious tax overhaul was one of the conspicuously neglected issues. It manifests what his father famously called voodoo economics, but it’s a serious proposal that should have been debated.

If I had to cast my vote based only on the second debate, it would be for Rand Paul. He was the only one unwilling to waste more American lives in the Middle East, and he spoke a truth that others feared to say: Donald Trump’s “sophomoric” behavior is better suited to a junior high school than the Oval Office.

So now Carly Fiorina is filling the “anybody but Trump” slot in the traveling circus. She doesn’t deserve it. Although she smacked him down deftly for his misogyny, she turned out to be more like him than not with a nasty disposition and disregard for the truth. Her lurid account of an abortion video that doesn’t exist was promptly debunked on every fact-checking website and her excuses for being sacked at Hewlett-Packard are implausible.

Bush got the better of Trump on the casino gambling issue and on immigration, but no sooner had the advantage than he fumbled it away.

Taking the bait on the dynasty issue, he declared that his brother, President George W. Bush, “kept us safe.”


Nearly 3,000 Americans did not die on 9/11?

Barely a month before that, on Aug. 6, 2011, the second President Bush had received a now-famous daily intelligence brief headlined, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

The Bush administration insisted the warning was nonspecific, but refused to release earlier CIA briefings on the same issue.

Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter who wrote a book on the subject and has seen excerpts from those secret briefings, contended in a Times op-ed last week that they reflect “significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.”

Neoconservatives in and around the White House, according to Eichenwald, mocked the CIA’s concern over bin Laden as a distraction from what they considered the real enemy: the entirely unthreatening (as we know now) Saddam Hussein. CIA officials were in despair.

The intelligence was clear. Al Qaeda was planning a major attack. Only the details were unknown. Nothing was done, as we know now, to increase surveillance at airports or other probable targets. The FBI’s apprehension of one of Bin Laden’s suspicion-inducing flight students failed to register in Washington.

“Officials at the Counterterrorism center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic,” Eichenwald wrote. “On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.”

The Aug. 6 daily brief, with its seemingly sensational headline, was a last-ditch effort to overcome the White House’s catastrophic indifference.

The reason this is relevant to Jeb’s candidacy is that he has surrounded himself with the same “Far Side” cast of neoconservatives who fostered George W’s obsession with Iraq and his neglect of Al Qaeda. They’re at the core of the Republican Party’s all-too-evident lust for a war with Iran.

Jeb Bush has a consistent problem with not thinking through what he’s about to say. It took him the better part of a week to admit that he had misspoken when he said that the Iraq war was justified even in hindsight.

Perhaps that gaffe and the one last week owe to more to sibling loyalty than to conscious reasoning. But the fact remains that a third Bush administration would be populated with the same people who led the second one – and the nation and the Middle East – into disaster.

    Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Martin Dyckman


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