Friday, everyone from the New Yorker to the White House was in a tizzy over comments Jeb Bush made about the Oregon community college shooting at a campaign event. Apparently, according to reporter Ryan Lizza, who was at the event, Jeb Bush . took a casual moment away from his campaign speech to address the tragic event with the words, “stuff happens.”
Insane, right? Obviously, Jeb Bush has exactly the same talent level as his brother when it comes to putting together sentences! Except, as with his brother much of the time, the reporter in question released the factoid absent not just the original sentence it appeared in, but the full context of Jeb’s speech, so the “stuff happens” quip seemed to stand alone, sort of like it did when your drunk grandpa yelled it from the sidelines of your T-ball game after you skinned half your leg in an ill-fated attempt to slide into home plate, or when your parents discover that you’ve surmounted adulthood by unlocking that stellar achievement, the hangover. After much haranguing, Lizza released the sentence.
Still bad. But after a little more pushing, Lizza finally just released the full transcript, which makes Bush’s “stuff happens” quote seem less like the callous and detached reaction to a national tragedy Lizza clearly intended it be portrayed as, and more of a break in a speech about Bush’s managerial experience in times of great governmental need. There’s always another crisis, Bush says, but you can’t take the first easy answer that falls into your lap – because it’s rarely easy and it’s never an answer. He even pauses to take a question.
He’s talking about addressing the problem of mentally ill people falling through the cracks. He’s saying that you can’t simply say “we need to ‘take action'” and assume you then can move on, having fully managed your way out of a crisis, using distraction after distraction to prevent having to answer the inevitable follow-up questions. Oddly enough, Bush’s comments, as portrayed by Lizza, were used for exactly that: Obama, rather than following up on his promise to “take action” on gun control in the immediate wake of the Oregon shooting, spent much of his time at the podium grousing about Jeb Bush. How convenient.
So what’s the end game? Just make conservatives look stupid by lending intentionally misleading context to off the cuff statements? That’s probably part of it, but the real strategy seems to dig deeper. With Democratic Presidential candidates on the ropes, the focus has to be on weakening not just the Republican field, but the Republican brand. We can see this demonstrated clearly here, but also with Kevin McCarthy . last week, who made the mistake of mentioning Hillary Clinton in remarks about the upcoming Benghazi hearings, opening himself up to the accusation that the hearings serve no purpose other than to weaken Hillary’s chances.
Democrats on Wednesday accused House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of having admitted the Benghazi investigation committee was created to politically damage Hillary Clinton, after he seemed to link her dropping poll numbers to the committee’s work.
McCarthy, considered the front-runner to replace retiring Speaker John Boehner, made the remarks in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Tuesday night. Describing how he would be different as speaker, McCarthy, R-Calif., said he’d be a “conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win.”
He added: “And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not …”
The remarks were…unfortunate. McCarthy seems to have meant that you can tell how Benghazi resonates with Americans by how it’s impacted Hillary’s poll numbers, and that’s true – that polling, which shows Hillary as being untrustworthy and the American public as having a natural curiosity about those event, is the only empirical evidence we have that McCarthy and Congress are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, it also seems to indicate that, at least as a byproduct, Hillary’s loss is a fair measure by which to judget the Benghazi select committee’s success.
Interpreting it closer to the latter benefits Democrats, especially those who want to demonstrate that Hillary is a strong candidate handicapped by vindictive old, white, men with an axe to grind, forged in the fires of Mt. Misogyny, rather than a hapless, insider bureaucrat who couldn’t negotiate her way out of a wet paper bag without trading on her husband’s last name, and weeping openly about a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Republicans who don’t want McCarthy as speaker – a fair number of people, it seems, on social media – have been reticent to defend McCarthy because it hurts him, too. But it hurts Republicans more.
The good news is, in neither case was the reporter in question able to maintain their facade of superiority in intellect and observation very long. Thanks to Twitter, angry people with nothing to do, and questions from those who cover politics as part of their living, these attacks haven’t maintained much of their integrity. But as time wears on, the attacks will get sloppier but more numerous, and not every quote can be parsed out by the Twitter hordes. And that means its going to get dangerous.