Former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann took to “The View” on Friday to hawk a book — and seek absolution. “In retrospect, based on what we've seen in the past two years in this country,” Olbermann declared, “I probably owe George W. Bush an apology.”
He continued: “I would happily take a third term of George W. Bush rather than this. That's how serious I think it is. . . . I'll take President Pence. I'll carry him to the White House on my shoulders.”
This is an argument that is suddenly in vogue. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has offered a version of it repeatedly. So have plenty of others of the liberal persuasion — most notably after Bush's not-so-veiled criticisms of Trump in a speech a couple weeks back.
It is also a terrible argument.
Setting aside any moral evaluations or value judgments about what either president has done or could do in the future, this argument risks communicating more about its adherent than the president.
Olbermann may be the case in point here. Appearing nightly on cable news during the Bush presidency, he accused Bush of being a fascist and a liar who was “siding with the terrorists.” He likened Bush to the “greatest political felons of our history.” He suggested Bush might have committed treason.
And that was just in one “special comment” segment on Feb. 14, 2008.
Implicit in the kind of argument Olbermann is offering is this: I was hyperbolic about the last guy, but you should totally believe me when I tell you this new guy is the real danger. It may be a totally sincere mea culpa on his part — the kind of honesty we should applaud — but if your criticisms of a previous president were over-the-top, we're suddenly to take your bold-lettered criticisms of the current one seriously? That's asking a lot, just from a logical perspective.
Olbermann's warnings about Bush were among the most full-throated, certainly, but there was plenty of this to go around. Pelosi avoided personally attacking Bush for a time, but she still wound up calling him a “total failure” and an “incompetent leader” who had “no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon.” Bush was accused of lying the country into a war that killed thousands of U.S. troops and of causing the worst recession since the Great Depression. He was labeled a racist for the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
Many of the criticisms listed above could just as well be — and are — similar to ones lodged against Trump today. Now, apparently, it's for real.
During the 2016 GOP primary, many of Trump's opponents said all manner of terrible things about him: That he was a sideshow not to be taken seriously, that he was dangerous, that he was a “con man,” that he was a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral” and a “serial philanderer.” And then they turned around and supported Trump when he was the GOP nominee. Some even admitted they basically just said those things because they were running against Trump.
Given that, is it any wonder that increasingly big warnings about Trump from Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) over the past month have left GOP voters largely unmoved?
They've heard these things before, after all, and the people that said them didn't seem to actually mean them.