None of [George W. Bush's] enormous failures have registered in the Republican psyche, except insofar as they are voiced by dissidents like Trump and Rand Paul. Chris Christie, rushing to Bush’s defense, claimed, “America was safe for those seven years, and Barack Obama has taken that safety away from us.” How have the seven years after 9/11 -- the wonderfully convenient time span universally chosen to defend Bush’s eight years in office -- proven more safe than the years that followed under Obama? The answer is tautological: because we had Bush protecting us. This is why Bush was able to present an image of his brother after 9/11 as a moment of triumph. Foreign policy remains an area Republicans measure as a primitive reflection of machismo. Dubya’s display of alpha manhood overrides any practical assessment of his policies. Jeb appealed to that same zone of the right-wing brain stem.
In Wednesday night's debate, Jeb Bush made one of those claims that left many viewers scratching their heads: “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.” This stood out, of course, because it's so horribly untrue.
I'll confess that when I first saw the tweet, I assumed it was a rude joke. In fact, it seemed obvious that the message had come from a Bush critic, not Bush himself -- it juxtaposes Jeb's rhetoric at the debate with an image of his brother standing atop rubble caused by a terrorist attack that occurred on his watch. The message seemed inherently self-defeating -- there's Jeb Bush saying his brother kept us safe, alongside a photograph documenting evidence that his brother did not keep us safe.
But it wasn't a rude joke. Rather, it was the former governor's bizarre way of trying to prove his point. Indeed, though I assumed Team Jeb would quickly realize how ridiculous the tweet was and delete it, the message is still there.
New York's Jon Chait takes a stab at explaining why in the world Jeb would embrace this incoherence with such enthusiasm.
That's as good an explanation as any, though I'd remind the Florida Republican that terrorists killed more Americans on his brother's watch than every other American president ever -- combined.
And even if Republicans are prepared to make the "9/11 doesn't count" pitch, there were also the deadly anthrax attacks, the scores of terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the increase in the number of terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world.
Jeb and his allies may argue that the Bush/Cheney administration shouldn't be blamed for these attacks. It's certainly a subject that warrants debate. But to say, over and over again, that George W. Bush "kept us safe" is to pretend this deadly violence simply didn't happen.
The issue is all the more important when we also realize that Jeb Bush has surrounded himself with his brother's foreign policy team, and the 2016 candidate has specifically said he turns to George W. Bush for guidance on the Middle East, his spectacular failures notwithstanding.