Friday, September 19, 2003

Bush Hating 101

Maybe a year ago, I finally confronted my demons. I admitted to myself that, yes, I *hate* President Bush and his cronies and all that they stand for. Mind you, it wasn't an easy emotion to acknowledge. As something of a secular humanist, I fervently want to believe that "everyone has his reasons." And as something of an intellectual elitist, the notion of politics being driven primarily by emotion is, well, frankly embarrassing. (That's, y'know, for those unwashed masses whom the Svengalis manipulate like puppets.) Lastly, as a political moderate who reads the Economist and mused about voting for McCain over Gore, it's not just extreme partisanship that's boiling my blood. I don't reflexively hate Republicans. Heck, I even kinda liked 41.

But just hearing 43 speak would raise my temperature 10 degrees. His clipped cadence, pausing after each line on the teleprompter, his Manichaean rhetoric, his budgetary sleight-of-hands -- it got to the point where as soon he appears on TV, I'd immediately change the channel, a reflex I normally reserve for such monsters as Ja Rule, Al Bundy, Fran Drescher, and Rush Limbaugh. At some point, I concluded what's most noxious about this administration -- why these guys enrage me so -- isn't that they're evil. Except for Dick Cheney, they're probably (mostly) well-intentioned and sincere (that's the liberal humanist talking). What's most offensive is these guys have no grounding in reality. Like the Soviets, or any number of insanely deluded regimes, these guys ignore facts -- science, economic data, history -- in favor of some fantasy world that they've bought into with a religious fervor. They don't give a shit about the real world that I'm living in, and that's just fucked up.

That angle wasn't touched on by Jonathan Chait in his otherwise invaluable and extremely timely ode to Bush hatred. Chait does an enviable job of articulating why it's legitimate, even logical, to be contemptuous of a man who had the audacity and arrogance to govern as a far-right ideologue after losing the popular vote and campaigning as a "uniter". He also discusses what I've alway thought was the central divide in American politics: culture. Bush is like a liberal elitist nightmare straight out of central casting, an ignoramus chickenhawk fratboy posing as a cowboy, just as ambitious, smarter-than-thou, pot-smoking, womanizing "moral relativist" Clinton is almost a cliched right-wing bogeyman. To the other side, each demonized president represents the apogee of toolitude, what we despise about others (and what that says about what we love about ourselves). It's John Wayne v. Monty Clift. Whichever side you identify with says something about who you are and who you aren't. Too much ink has already been spilled over the culture war, but Chait also tries, without much success, to distinguish Bush hating as far more legitimate than Clinton-hating. To be fair, it's a hard intellectual dance, one I've never truly worked out to any degree of satisfaction.

One key distinction is the aforementioned phobia of facts by the present Administration. I've detected that many Bush haters -- many of my political-engaged friends and all the raging lib columnists and pundits among them -- are driven batty most often when Dubya or his spokeman ignores a widely known or widely supported fact and continues to insist, for example, that no more troops are needed in Iraq, that taxes were cut for "everyone", or that global warming is some wacko fantasy. My favorite line on Bush, that he's not so-much an imperialist as an anti-empiricist, encapsulates his administration's wholesale contempt for knowledge, fact-gathering, data, and any expert advice that dissents from the party line. Clinton was nothing if not a pragmatist and empiricist. His penchant for reciting an exhausting litany of stats in his rambling State of the Union addresses speaks to this. By contrast, Dubya and his cronies intone about vague principles and, when confronted, do little more than to pass off fantasy scenarios ("the tax cuts will grow the economy and shrink the deficit"; "the Iraqi people will welcome Americans as liberators"). Bush's rhetoric reveals the pseudo-religious, black-and-white moral stance that this adminstration and most right-wingers take, a stance that's increasingly proving to be a menace to our country and the world. What's been a tonic to us Bush haters is his rapidly declining poll numbers. We keep telling ourselves (as Clinton has been telling to Democrats as well) that the middle-of-the-road voters will turn on Bush if and when they finally learn what Bush is doing. Of course, if Dubya continues on this course and gets reelected anyway, you'll do well to pick up some stock in Pfizer and Eli Lilly. I know I'll need some.