Do We Have Basic Minimum Standards?

Do you think this is the kind of country that would replace Barack Obama with a president who mocks people for their disabilities? This is actually a serious question.

And before you object, I know all about the previous occupant of the White House. I remember when George W. Bush did an interview back in 1999 with Tucker Carlson and decided to make fun of Karla Faye Tucker for pleading for her life:

The most disquieting aspect of Mr. Carlson’s report of Mr. Bush’s language is not what it says about Mr. Bush’s ability to dignify politics after President Clinton’s squalor. Rather, it is that Mr. Bush may have been showing off for Mr. Carlson, daring to be naughty. He may be proving his independence, which Mr. Carlson likes, but it is independence from standards of public taste — not the sort of independence many voters will be seeking in a successor to Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Carlson reports asking Mr. Bush whether he met with any people who came to Texas to protest the execution of the murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Mr. Bush said no, adding: “I watched [Larry King’s] interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like `What would you say to Governor Bush?’ ” Mr. Carlson asked, “What was her answer?” and writes:

” `Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, `don’t kill me.’ “

Ms. [Karen] Hughes, who says Mr. Bush’s decision not to commute Tucker’s sentence was “very difficult and very emotional,” says Mr. Carlson’s report is “a total misread” of Mr. Bush. Mr. Carlson, who describes Mr. Bush as “smirking,” says: “I took it down as he said it.”

Nothing remotely resembling the King-Tucker exchange that Mr. Bush describes appears in the transcript of Mr. King’s hour-long Jan. 14, 1998, program. And it is difficult to imagine anything Mr. Bush said that Mr. Carlson may have “misread” that could do Mr. Bush credit.

I also know that the Bushes were the precursors to the current post-truth party. For example, after Carlson reported on Bush’s mocking of a woman he had condemned to death, and also on Bush’s liberal use of profanity, he got some major pushback from the campaign.

“Then I heard that Karen Hughes accused me of lying. And so I called Karen and asked her why she was saying this, and she had this almost Orwellian rap that she laid on me about how things she’d heard — that I watched her hear — she in fact had never heard, and she’d never heard Bush use profanity ever. It was insane. I’ve obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way she lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness. They get carried away, consultants do, in the heat of the campaign, they’re really invested in this. A lot of times they really like the candidate. That’s all conventional. But on some level, you think, there’s a hint of recognition that there is reality — even if they don’t recognize reality exists — there is an objective truth. With Karen you didn’t get that sense at all. A lot of people like her. A lot of people I know like her. I’m not one of them.”

When Carlson says that Karen Hughes “almost crosse[d] over from bravado into mental illness,” he could just as easily be describing Donald Trump.

There is one difference, however.

When Bush mocked Karla Faye Tucker, he did it in the privacy of the backseat of a car. His campaign could and did deny that it ever happened.

Donald Trump mocked New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski’s disability on a stage in front of thousands of supporters. There’s no denying that he did it or what he meant by it. At another point, Trump said that conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, who is partially paralyzed, “couldn’t buy a pair of pants.” That was also captured on camera.

So, even if there isn’t as much difference between George W. Bush and Donald Trump as people might think, there’s a lot more ammo to use against Trump.

So, I ask again, is this the kind of country that would replace Barack Obama with a president who mocks people for their disabilities?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.