During Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, Jeb Bush argued that if one thing was certain about his brother's time in the White House, it was that George W. Bush "kept us safe." The line went over well at the Reagan library, drawing applause from the partisan audience. But many who listened to that claim outside the hall were taken aback.
"Jeb Bush about George W. Bush: 'He kept us safe.' Under whose watch did 9/11 happen?" Daily Beast correspondent Olivia Nuzzi tweeted.
"Yes Bush kept us safe except for, um..." chimed in the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman.
"Bush kept us safe unless you were one of the 1000s who died on 9/11 or 100s who died in the unrelated wars we fought afterwards," ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum tweeted.
Instead of retreating from or clarifying the claim the day after the debate, Bush doubled down on it, tweeting out a graphic with the quote from the debate and an image from former President George W. Bush's famous bullhorn speech from the ruins of the Twin Towers in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The 9/11 Commission Report does not fault Bush directly for compromising American safety prior to the attacks, but points to lapses in intelligence that gave Bush as well as former President Bill Clinton an incomplete picture of the threat posed by Al Qaeda. The report stresses how, looking back, it's hard to remember a time when terrorism wasn't the very first issue on every American's mind. But until Sept. 11, 2001, that was the case. Though Bush had been warned of a potential attack from Al Qaeda, the severity that threat was understated. Still, the overriding, and rather intuitive message from the 9/11 Commission Report is that we weren't being kept safe enough on that fateful day. Here's how the report frames the situation:
Whatever the weakness int he CIA's portaiture, both Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush and their top advisers told us they got the picture--they understood (Osama) Bin Ladin was a danger. But given the character and the pace of their policy efforts, we do not believe they fully understood just how many people al Quaeda might kill, and how soon they might do it. At some level that is hard to define, we believe the threat had not yet become compelling.
Looking back at the video from that moment Jeb Bush posted, it's use as evidence for safety seems stranger. During that famous speech, Ground Zero workers yelled that they couldn't hear the president though the megaphone. "I can hear you," Bush said. "The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these building down will hear all of us soon." That line garnered cheers and chants of "USA, USA." The entire speech is peppered with shouts of "Go get 'em, George."
The photo Jeb Bush used highlights the holes in his claim. Few people would say the attacks were his brother's fault, but he happened to be the president when the country was at its most vulnerable. And that bullhorn moment, then and now, was about revenge, not safety, a sentiment that many believe ultimately lead to the invasion of Iraq. By promoting that moment, as when the former Florida governor at first refused to call the war in Iraq a mistake, Bush is inviting voters to continue associating him the that part of his brother's legacy.