The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Friday, August 06, 2004


This Washington Post editorial, about the phenomenon of "Bush hatred," set me to thinking. I've long thought about figuring out whether it was fair to say that I actually "hated" George W. Bush.

I do have a deep aversion to the man, no doubt about it. It's difficult for me to listen to him clips of him speaking without rolling my eyes, tough to look at a picture of him without grimacing, and damned near impossible to sit through one of his speeches without yelling insults at the screen.

It wasn't always this way. Determined not to treat Bush the way the right wing treated Clinton, I decided to keep an open mind. I wasn't quite sure what to expect in January 2001. His record in Texas hinted at what was to come, but America, thankfully, is not merely Texas writ large.

Don't get me wrong; I've never liked him or anything he represented. When he gave his first major address to Congress in 2001, the phrase that stuck with me the most was "I'd like to ask for a refund." I recalled that once upon a time, a President told a nation "Ask not what your country can do for you," and then after Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and everything else, we had reached some new nadir. Bill Clinton, for all his intellectual brilliance and his remarkable political skill, encapsulated perfectly the promise and the disappointment of the Baby Boom Generation; he left Americans more cyncial about their leaders than ever before, but now we had a president whose applause line was "I'd like to ask for a refund." I knew then that dark times were upon us, but didn't necessarily think that had much to do with George W. Bush, as he merely seemed to reflect the climate in which his political fortunes had grown.

I waited for some sense of give-and-take from our nation's leader, some sense that he would help heal what was a deeply divided nation after the 2000 elections, and then again after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I waited in vain.

He pushed a hard-right agenda from Day One, one that a neutral observer wouldn't have anticipated from his relatively bland 2000 campaign. Thanks in large part to him, no longer does politics stop at the waters' edge when it comes to foreign policy. He has no problem with writing discrimination into the Constitution if he thinks it will get him more votes. He promulgates policies that will bring us more polluted air and water, and more despoilation of our landscape and has the unmitigated gall to give them labels like "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests."

He said he and Dick Cheney would "change the tone in Washington." Whether that's more hilariously wrong than his statement "I'm a uniter, not a divider" I leave as a mental exercise to the reader.

Over three years, as I have seen one dishonest and disingenuous propaganda campaign after another, one exercise in counterproductive fearmongering after another, my irritation has grown.

Still, hate is probably not the right word.

I hear a lot of people on my side talk about what an idiot Bush is. Heck, I even have a T-shirt that says the same in five foreign languages. But he's not an idiot.
I despise him because I see something worse than an idiot. I see a man who through all his life has been ignorant - ignorant about the world around him, ignorant about anyone outside his inner circle, ignorant about people not blessed with the incredible fortune (in more ways than one) he inherited - and in some sense is proud of this ignorance. He knew nothing about foreign policy when he was running for president. Neither did Bill Clinton, but Clinton is the sort of man who will try his damnedest to learn what he needs to know. Clinton always wanted to know what his critics were saying about him - one could even imagine him reading a lot of books and articles written by people who didn't like him, though he probably skipped the "Clinton is a serial rapist who operates a cocaine ring out of a secret airport" stuff. It's probably been a long time since Bush has been exposed to even one unkind word written or spoken about him anywhere.

I know some people that I don't think are particularly intelligent. To the extent that I can be said to hate or even dislike any of them, it's not out of any contempt for their lack of smarts. I get frustrated when people around me keep stupidly making the same mistakes sometimes, but that's quite different from hatred. Yes, none of these people are President of the United States. But if people do bad things because they don't know better, while you're better off avoiding them, is that reason to hate them?

The big problem is that Bush lives in a Manichean cartoon world where there are obvious heroes who must triumph and obvious villains who are pure evil and must be destroyed at all costs, and in the latter category is anyone who dares cross him for any reason. There are a lot of people in America - and elsewhere - who share this mindset. Bush believes he is an agent of God, a shining light of righteousness in the world who was placed on the earth to destroy evil. But so does Osama bin Laden. So did the 9/11 al-Qaida hijackers and the Hamas terrorists who blow themselves up with shrapnel grenades on Tel Aviv buses. Remove the "God" part and the same could be said for Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. In the real world, the monster is seldom aware that he is a monster or even could ever be a monster. If you believe your adversaries are human beings with the same desires, hopes, and dreams that you have, it's that much harder to commit terrorism or genocide or any other kind of mass murder.

Does that make Bush or his supporters the moral equivalent of terrorists or Nazis? Of course not. But it does suggest, particularly given the level of power available to this society, unprecendented in the history of the world, that the capacity of humanity to destroy itself with hatred has never been greater. When we place people with this mindset in high office, we increase the danger.

I try best not to contribute to said hatred.

In my idealism, I would like to believe that our leaders should reflect our aspirations and hopes, putting our best foot forward towards the world. What I believe we have is a leader who reflects our basest instincts and all our worst features as a people.

The man I want to be cannot hate another person, whatever their flaws might be.

Fine mostly talks about the personal aspects of the "Bush hatred" phenomenon. And I am in a position where I understand and feel it more than most people. Bush in some senses reminds me of a lot of the guys (and some gals, too) I went to Dartmouth with and generally did my best to avoid. They had their tickets punched from birth, irrespective of any talents or smarts they may or may not have. Even if I felt no resentment for their unearned good fortune, I had no real way to relate to them on any level. I could ask them how they would feel if they were in the shoes of someone less fortunate, but unless they were sufficiently curious to contemplate such a thing or sufficiently compassionate to empathy toward such people, nothing I could say would make much difference. Even if they were to vote the same way I do - and many of them doubtless did - they would likely be doing it for different reasons: because their family does it, because it was fashionable in their circles, or because it benefitted them somehow.

Bush of course pays lip service regarding how compassionate he is, but I've concluded that lip service is all it is. I've remarked before about how I think he has a cavalier attitude towards sending people to their death. Policywise, as I've observed before, he says many of the right things but always comes up short when the rubber hits the road, not least because his real priority is taking care of his cronies.

I'm perversely impressed with the packaging job his handlers have done in painting him as a sympathetic figure. When I look at him, I see a small man made large by a massive image-making apparatus, a man whose massive sense of entitlement is mistaken for dignity, whose arrogance portrayed is as strength, whose recklessness is perceived as decisiveness.

Again, none of this would be a big deal if he weren't the most powerful man on the planet. Even a man with all these flaws can do good in the world - he might be a good husband, a good father, and even - though in this case, the record suggests otherwise - a fine businessman.

Fine doesn't discuss administration policy in any susbtantive way, except to conclude that nothing much has happened. (And to call his administration "scandal free" is, to put it mildly, a stretch.) A lot of people would take serious issue with this characterization, not least because of this war in Iraq, but I'm not writing this essay about substantive policy.

Fine does mention that the fact that Bush has ascended to these heights of power gives the lie to the notion that in America people rise and fall on their own merits. Perhaps if I had an illusion that we lived in a meritocracy, where I harbored dreams of becoming President of the United States despite my humble background, I suppose I'd be more bothered by the second Bush presidency for the reasons Professor Fine cites. But I know better than that; if I didn't, I couldn't pledge my support for another Skull & Bonesman for President this fall.

I understand why this idea bothers liberals more. Liberals have more people amongst their ranks who believe in the virtue of public service than the conservatives do. If your entire ideology is that government has no business doing much of anything to help improve people's lives, it shouldn't bother you much that the highest office in the land is held by an incurious, intellectually limited man. William F. Buckley's famous quip that he'd rather be governed by random names out of the phone book than the faculty of Harvard since the former, even if they couldn't locate Mexico on a map, at least wouldn't be trying to locate Utopia, comes to mind.

I've also heard a lot of people, mostly conservatives, claim that they'd affirmatively rather have a "ordinary man" in power. (You can tell a lot about a person's belief system based on their reaction to "Forrest Gump," a movie that I intensely detest.) I happen to be of the view that just as I'd bristle at the thought that my surgeon didn't know any more about surgery than I or any ordinary person would, or that my mechanic wouldn't know any more about fixing cars than I or any ordinary person would, I wouldn't want someone in charge of government policy who neither knows nor cares to know about the workings of government than I do. Of course, a Bush supporter pushing this reason would have believe that Bush were "just one of the guys," which is a silly notion when one thinks about it at all. Regular guys aren't put on the boards of large corporations or given multiple companies to run into the ground. And if anyone out there thinks that Bush would any more than John Kerry or Al Gore give Joe Sixpack the time of day, I have some oceanfront land in Missouri I can sell them cheap.

George W. Bush might actually be able to sell oceanfront land in Missouri. I think of him as a salesman, a very skilled salesman. He was seemingly put on this earth to sell something that people shouldn't want to buy. What he is selling is poisonous, but I have no clue whether or not he knows that, or cares. If I thought he knew he was selling poison, or didn't care whether he was selling poison, maybe I'd actually hate the man.

But I don't know. As much as people think they "know" some celebrity they see on television, they don't really know him. I always try to keep that in mind.

I do hate the poison, however. With a passion.


Post a Comment

<< Home