Tuesday Reads: Saint George? Really?

Good Morning!!

It’s only Tuesday, and this week feels as if it has already gone on forever. I wonder if the George Bush sainthood celebration will continue through the weekend? I sure hope not. I’d like to be able to resume watching cable news before next week. In case anyone else here is sick of hearing about Saint Poppy, here are some antidotes the the media coverage.

Slate: Don’t Spend Your Emotional Energy on Sully H.W. Bush.

On Sunday night, George H.W. Bush spokesman Jim McGrath posted a photograph to Twitter depicting a golden Labrador named Sully resting in front of the former president’s casket. The caption read “Mission complete.”

Within hours, Sully the dog had become a bona fide celebrity. McGrath’s sentiment has been retweeted 61,000 times and counting, and “Sully” was trending on Twitter at various times on Monday. C-SPAN covered the dog’s arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday afternoon. The picture of the dog lying in front of the casket was covered by outlets from Fox News to NPR as the internet exploded with tributes to the pair’s “forever friendship.” The photograph was submitted as evidence of Bush’s character, of Sully’s character, and as support for the idea that America should not elect a president who “does not love and is not loved by pets.” Heavy.com offered “5 Fast Facts You Need to Know” about the dog. People magazine gushed that Sully was “keeping the 41st commander in chief safe in death as he did in life,” and even produced a slideshow of their “special friendship.” Many suggested Sully was heartbroken, and/or that they themselves were crying over the photo; conservative writer Dan McGlaughlin compared the dog to a Marine.

There’s nothing wrong with applying sentimentality when it comes to family pets reacting to their owners’ deaths. There’s even some preliminary evidence from the small field of “comparative thanatology” that animals notice death, and that some may even experience an emotion we might compare to grief. But Sully is not a longtime Bush family pet, letting go of the only master he has known. He is an employee who served for less than six months….

It’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him in his last months. It’s a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet). But it’s a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket. Is Sully “heroic” for learning to obey the human beings who taught him to perform certain tasks? Does the photo say anything special about this dog’s particular loyalty or judgment, or is he just … there? Also, if dogs are subject to praise for obeying their masters, what do we do about the pets who eat their owners’ dead (or even just passed-out) bodies?

The photograph, in other words, is not proof that Sully is a particularly “good boy” or that “we don’t deserve dogs,” as countless swooning tweets put it on Monday. On its own, it says almost nothing other than the fact that Sully was, at one point in the same room as the casket of his former boss. This is simply a photograph of a dog doing something dogs love to do: Lie down. The frenzy around it captures something humans love to do, too: Project our own emotional needs onto animals.

Vox: 8 women say George H.W. Bush groped them. Their claims deserve to be remembered as we assess his legacy.

Sexual harassment or assault can’t be bracketed off as part of a politician’s private life. It’s an important part of the story of their leadership, their use of power, and their policy. The same is true for Bush.

Relatively little has been made of the accusations against Bush since they emerged last year. A woman initially accused Bush of groping her and telling her a dirty joke as she stood beside him, seated in a wheelchair, for a photo op. The family responded, suggesting the aging former president might be slipping a bit. “President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures,” a spokesperson, Jim McGrath, said on Bush’s behalf.

But then the story changed. More women came forward describing incidents that took place before Bush was in a wheelchair and even while he was in office. One woman described a credible story dating back to 1992, when she says that Bush, then the president, put his hand on her rear end while taking a photograph at a reelection fundraiser. Another woman described an incident from 2003, when she was 16 years old — and Bush was still spry, zipping around Kennebunkport, Maine, on a Segway.

“All the focus has been on ‘He’s old.’ OK, but he wasn’t old when it happened to me,” the woman, now 55 told CNN. “I’ve been debating what to do about it.”

The same spokesperson offered up a new version of the behavior, admitting, yes, Bush has done what he’s accused of, but it was innocent — he “has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner.”

The women who spoke out feel differently. In each case, the accuser was excited to meet a political figure, someone who’s supposed to represent them; then, they said, he groped them. In that moment, they became second-class citizens. While their brothers or husbands or male friends might have gotten a handshake and a thumbs-up from this powerful man and walked away feeling good about themselves and their relationship with their government, these women were put in their place.

And let’s not forget that Bush appointed Clarence Thomas and stood by him when he was credibly accused of sexual harassment.

Garence Franke-Ruta at The Cut: History Will Recall, George Bush Did Nothing At All.

History will recall
George Bush did nothing at all.

I must have chanted those words hundreds times while protesting the Bush administration’s inaction on the AIDS crisis with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) between 1989 and 1992. ACT UP was founded in 1987 in the epicenter of the HIV epidemic in America — New York City — to demand action to end the AIDS crisis. Today it is remembered as part of the Reagan ’80s, but the reality is that much of the group’s most intensive work took place during the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush. With ACT UP, I marched past the Bush White House down a Pennsylvania Avenue not yet closed to traffic. I rallied outside his Department of Health and Human Services, his Centers for Disease Control, his National Institutes of Health. And in 1991, I shook my finger chanting “Shame!” half a mile from his family’s summer compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. More than 1,500 AIDS activists descended on the resort town on September 1 that year, bearing signs that charged Bush with a murderous neglect of the AIDS crisis, along with a 50-foot banner with a 32-point plan to end it.

The transition from the Reagan presidency to the Bush one was more one of tone than substance when it came to AIDS, a kinder gentler indifference. Messaging that repeatedly pointed to “behavior change” as the solution, without backing prevention programs known to work. A lack of leadership from the top. No central strategy. “He was not doing enough as a leader,” Urvashi Vaid, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force during the Bush years, told Pridesource after Bush’s death. “I think that those pressures and protests led by ACT UP all over the country … that pressure is what pushed both members of Congress and the administration to do whatever it did. I can’t say that enough.” Added ACT UP founder and playwright Larry Kramer, “I will not give [Bush] credit for anything. He hated us.”

Nearly a quarter century later when I had the opportunity as a political editor to participate in a several-day event at the Bush presidential library and museum, I thought about those years of protesting with ACT UP. For me reporting was always about other people’s stories, not my own, and it was rare for my activist past to come up except as history that informed my understanding of the dynamics of new social movements.

But with Bush, I felt I could not forget myself. Could not forget the suffering I’d witnessed in New York — where AIDS was, during his presidency, the leading cause of death for men ages 25–44, or the way his election extended the oppressive culture of the Reagan years that saw so many of my friends kicked out of their homes in their teens for being gay. I passed the Bush library opportunity on to a colleague.

USA Today: George H.W. Bush leaves mixed record on race, civil rights.

Early in George H.W. Bush’s political career, when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, he came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, deriding his opponent as “radical” for supporting the bill that ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination.

“The new civil-rights act was passed to protect 14 percent of the people,” he said. “I’m also worried about the other 86 percent.”

The stand seemed at odds with his family’s long history of supporting civil rights (his father, Prescott Bush, a Connecticut senator had worked to desegregate schools and protect voting rights) and with his own work raising money for the United Negro College Fund.

But in Texas, where the Republican party was steadily becoming more conservative and embracing the Southern Strategy of appealing to white voters, Bush’s position made sense.

It “made sense” if you had no principles except getting elected. A bit more:

In his 1988 bid for the presidency, Bush would seem to again opt for expediency in a campaign that is often cited as one of the nastiest in political memory, with the blatant racism of the Willie Horton ad, which mined ugly stereotypes of African-Americans, and for Bush’s questioning of the patriotism of his opponent, Michael Dukakis, because of his Greek heritage.

The Horton ad, which focused on a convicted murderer who committed a violent rape while out of prison on a furlough program Dukakis had supported, was put out by a conservative PAC, not the Bush campaign. However, Bush repeatedly brought up Horton’s name in speeches, including one to the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“Horton applied for a furlough,” Bush said at the time. “He was given the furlough. He was released. And he fled — only to terrorize a family and repeatedly rape a woman.”

The Bush campaign also released an ad that showed footage of prisoners going through a revolving door — a strategy that played on white voters’ fears and prejudices, said Jason Johnson, a professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

F-16A Fighting Falcon, F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft fly over burning oil field sites in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force archive photo)

Finally, there was Bush’s war in Iraq.

Joshua Holland wrote on June 27, 2014: The First Iraq War Was Also Sold to the Public Based on a Pack of Lies.

Most countries condemned Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But the truth — that it was the culmination of a series of tangled economic and historical conflicts between two Arab oil states — wasn’t likely to sell the US public on the idea of sending our troops halfway around the world to do something about it.

So we were given a variation of the “domino theory.” Saddam Hussein, we were told, had designs on the entire Middle East. If he wasn’t halted in Kuwait, his troops would just keep going into other countries.

As Scott Peterson reported for The Christian Science Monitor in 2002, a key part of the first Bush administration’s case “was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia. Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated in mid-September [of 1990]  that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier.”

A quarter of a million troops with heavy armor amassed on the Saudi border certainly seemed like a clear sign of hostile intent. In announcing that he had deployed troops to the Gulf in August 1990, George HW Bush said, “I took this action to assist the Saudi Arabian Government in the defense of its homeland.” He asked the American people for their “support in a decision I’ve made to stand up for what’s right and condemn what’s wrong, all in the cause of peace.”

But one reporter — Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times — wasn’t satisfied taking the administration’s claims at face value. She obtained two commercial satellite images of the area taken at the exact same time that American intelligence supposedly had found Saddam’s huge and menacing army and found nothing there but empty desert.

She contacted the office of then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney “for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis offering to hold the story if proven wrong.” But “the official response” was: “Trust us.”

Heller later told the Monitor’s Scott Peterson that the Iraqi buildup on the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia “was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist.”

Read the rest at Bill Moyers.com.

I know there is lots of other news today, but I just had to get this off my chest. What stories are you following?

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