On the Defense and Criticism of George W. Bush Over His 9/11 Comments

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Over the weekend, the nation mourned and commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Islamist attack that took nearly 3,000 lives and spawned decades of war. Politicians present and past gathered at the Flight 93 memorial, yet it wasn’t the current President of the United States who spoke, though Joe Biden did make some incredibly offensive remarks to reporters later.

Rather, that responsibility fell to George W. Bush, who grabbed a bullhorn and rallied the country in that now-iconic scene at ground zero. Over 10 minutes, Bush gave the speech you’d expect him to give, but there was one brief segment that set off a firestorm of criticism and defense of the former president.

Here are those remarks.

“We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders. But from violence that gathers within. There’s little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism. In their disregard for human life. In their determination to defile national symbols. They are children of the same foul spirit and it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

What Bush meant by that has become the subject of heated debate. In one corner, the left universally believe he was talking about January 6th. In another corner, many on the right also believe he was talking about January 6th. In yet another corner, some on the right are using this as a gotcha of the unclean, claiming they are “telling on themselves” by believing Bush was talking about January 6th.

For my part, I’m always going to level with you, and I feel like it would be gaslighting to assert that he might have been talking about Antifa or some generalized idea of extremism. He just wasn’t, in my opinion. First, you have to take into account who his audience was, i.e. who was standing in front of him? The answer is a line of Democrat politicians, from Barack Obama to Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton who all buy into the domestic extremism trope. But more definitively, with the mention of defiling “national symbols,” it is just clear as day to me that he’s talking about unrest at the Capitol Building.

With that said, I’m not writing this article to claim great offense at what Bush said. Sure, I think it was a lazy throw-in meant to appease the social club he clearly enjoys being part of. I also think it isn’t based on any real evidence given the clear lack of a threat represented by “domestic” extremists compared to Islamic terrorists that not only took 3,000 lives on 9/11 but just took another 13 not even a month ago via a suicide bombing. Yet, it was the defense of Bush that I think bugged me the most.

Take this as an example.

Here’s the thing, though. Republicans disliking George W. Bush and his equivocations is not something that just came into existence last Saturday. The opposition to the former president has been a large and ever-growing movement on the right going back to 2009-2010 when disillusion with the Iraq war began to make it into Republican circles. Heck, yesterday wasn’t even the first time Bush has trotted out the domestic extremism, nativism, etc. line. It’s become a staple of his public appearances since the prior election of Donald Trump, agree with it or not.

And that was really the period where any support he may have still had on the right largely collapsed. GOP voters looked at a guy who couldn’t be bothered to speak out during eight years of Obama suddenly voicing his opinion with vigor against a Republican, and it served as another sign of just how intertwined the establishments of each party are. Further, they started to accept Bush’s record of not only vast foreign policy failure but domestic failure as well.

From a bad Supreme Court pick to getting essentially nothing done when it came to political or cultural conservatism, many on the right felt like they had gone to bat for Bush against rabid attacks but that he wasn’t willing to return the favor on any basic level. It’s clear that right-wing opposition to George W. Bush is not some new “grift” spawned by a defense of January 6th. Rather, it’s a natural reaction to an arguably failed president.

In short, Saturday’s criticism was a continuation of where most on the right have been regarding Bush for a long time.