one thing certain to go through Barack Obama's mind during the inauguration:
at one point or another, while glancing at George W. Bush, he will consider
the treatment that Bush got as president and hope to God he suffers nothing
even vaguely similar.
It can be stated without fear of
serious argument that no previous president has been treated as brutally,
viciously, and unfairly as George W. Bush.
Bush 43 endured a deliberate and
planned assault on everything he stood for, everything he was involved
in, everything he tried to accomplish. Those who worked with him suffered
nearly as much (and some even more -- at least one, Scooter Libby, was
convicted on utterly specious
charges in what amounts to a show trial).
His detractors were willing to risk
the country's safety, its economic health, and the very balance of the
democratic system of government in order to get at him. They were out to
bring him down at all costs, or at the very least destroy his personal
and presidential reputation. At this they have been half successful, at
a high price for the country and its government.
Although everyone insists on doing
so, it is impossible to judge Bush, his achievements, or his failings,
without taking these attacks into account. Before any serious analysis
of the Bush presidency can be made, some attempt to encompass the campaign
against him must be carried out. I hope no one is holding his breath.
It's quite true that other presidents
have suffered baseless attacks. Lincoln was generally dismissed as an imbecile,
an unwashed backwoodsman, and an orang-outang (as they spelled it then).
There exists an infamous Confederate cartoon portraying him with devil's
horns and one foot on the Constitution. Next to no one at the time could
have foreseen the towering stature Lincoln would at last attain.
Richard M. Nixon probably stands
as the most hated president prior to Bush. But that was largely thanks
to a relatively small coterie of east-coast leftists and their hangers-on,
angered by Nixon's early anti-communism (which had become more "nuanced"
by the time he took office, as the 1970 opening to China clearly reveals.).
Nixon had the support of most of the country, the famed "silent majority",
during his first term, and if not for his own personal failings, he would
unquestionably have prevailed over his enemies. Difficult though it may
be to believe, Nixon was only one paranoid slip away from being considered
a great or near-great president
With Reagan, the coterie was even
smaller and more isolated. His enemies continually underestimated him as
a "B-movie actor" (which, by the way, showed a serious misunderstanding
as to how the old studio system actually worked), and were just as continually
flummoxed by his humor, his intelligence, and his unexcelled skill at communication.
As the outpouring of public emotion surrounding his state funeral made
clear, Reagan today stands as one of the beloved of all modern presidents.
Bush is alone at being attacked
and denied support from all quarters -- even from many members of his own
party. No single media source, excepting talk radio, was ever in his corner.
Struggling actors and comics revived their careers though attacks on Bush.
A disturbed woman perhaps a half step above the status of a bag lady parked
outside his Crawford home to throw curses at him and was not only not sent
on her way but joined by hundreds of others with plenty of spare time on
their hands, an event covered in minute-by-minute detail by major media.
At least two films, one produced
play, and a novel (by the odious Nicholson
Baker, a writer with the distinction of dropping further down the ladder
of decency with each work -- from sophisticated porn in Vox to degrading
the war against Hitler in last year's Human
Smoke) appeared calling for his assassination -- a new wrinkle
in presidential criticism, and one that the left will regret. And let's
not forget that tribune of the voiceless masses, Michael
Moore, whose Fahrenheit
911 once marked the end-all and be-all of political satire but
today is utterly forgotten.
While FDR was accused of having
engineered Pearl Harbor (as if even an attempted attack on the US
would not have been enough to get the country into WW II in real style),
no president before Bush was ever subjected to the machinations of an entire
conspiracy industry. The 9/11 Truthers, a mix of seriously disturbed individuals
and hustlers out to pull a profitable con, accused Bush and his administration
of crimes that put the allegations against Roosevelt in the shade, and
with far less rational basis. These hallucinations were picked up the mass
media, playing the role of transmission belt, and various fringe political
figures along the lines of Cynthia McKinney.
But even this pales in light of
the actions of the New York Times, which on its downhill road to
becoming a weekly shopper giveaway for the Upper West Side, seriously jeopardized
national security in the process of satisfying its anti-Bush compulsion.
Telecommunications intercepts, interrogation techniques, transport of terrorist
captives, tracking of terrorist finances... scarcely a single security
program aimed at Jihadi activity went unrevealed by the Times and
-- not to limit the blame -- was then broadcast worldwide by the legacy
media. At one point, Times reporters published a detailed analysis
of government methods of searching out rogue atomic weapons, a story that
was no doubt read with interest at points north of Lahore, and one that
we may all end up paying for years down the line. The fact that Bush was
able to curtail any further attacks while the media as a whole was working
to undermine his efforts is little less than miraculous.
As for his own party, no small number
of Republicans (not all of them of the RINO fraternity) made a practice
of ducking out on their party leader. Many refused to be photographed with
him, several took steps to be out of town when he was scheduled to appear
in their districts, and as for the few who actually spoke out in his favor...
well, the names don't trip easily into mind. This naked pusillanimity played
a large role in the GOP's 2006 and 2008 electoral debacles. Until the party
grasps this, don't look for any major comeback.
And last but not least (I think
we can safely overlook the flying shoes, which have been covered down to
the last aglet), Bush is the sole American chief executive -- perhaps the
sole leader in world history -- to have had a personality disorder named
after him, the immortal Bush
Derangement Syndrome. Few at this point recall that this was an actual
psychological effort at diagnosing the president's effect on the tender
psyches of this country's leftists. Was there a Hitler syndrome? A Stalin
syndrome? The very existence of BDS says more about the left in general
than it does about Bush.
What were the reasons for this hatred
and the campaign that grew out of it? We can ask that question as often
as we like, but we'll get no rational answer. All that we can be sure of
is that Bush's actual policies and personality had little to do with it.
Al Gore's egomaniacal attempt to defy this country's constitutional rules
of succession merely acted as a trigger, giving the left a pretext to open
up the attack. The same can be said about lingering bitterness over Bill
Clinton's impeachment. While certainly a factor, it by no means accounts
for a complete explanation. After all, did the GOP of the 70s go overboard
in avenging Richard Nixon's forced resignation by working over Jimmy Carter?
The best course was actually that which they followed, to allow Mr. Peanut
to destroy himself.
As in all such cases, Bush hatred
involves a number of factors that will be debated by historians for decades
to come. But one component that cannot be overlooked is ideology, specifically
the ideologization of American politics. It is no accident that the three
most hated recent presidents are all Republican. These campaigns are yet
another symptom of the American left's collapse into an ideological stupor
characterized by pseudo-religious impulses, division of the world into
black and white entities, and the unleashing of emotions beyond any means
of rational control. The demonization of Bush -- and Reagan, and Nixon
-- is the flip-side of the messianic response to Barack Obama.
There's nothing new about any of
this. It's present in Orwell's 1984 in the "Five-Minute Hate" against
the imaginary Emmanuel Goldstein, himself based on Leon Trotsky. The sole
novel factor is its adaptation as a conscious tactic in democratic politics.
That is unprecedented, and a serious cause for concern.
Being a Democrat, Obama has little
to worry about, even with the far-left elements of his coalition beginning
to sour on him. The ideological machinery is too unwieldy to swing around
in order to target a single figure. Even if circumstances force him to
violate the deeper tenets of his following, personal factors -- not limited
to skin color -- will serve to protect him.
For the country as a whole, the
prospects are bleaker. The left is convinced that hatred works, that it's
a perfect tactic, one that will work every time out. They have already
started the process with Sarah Palin, their next target in their long row
of hate figures. They're wrong, of course. In a democracy, hatred is not
a keeper, as the Know-Nothings, Radical Republicans, segregationists, Birchers,
and many others have learned to their eventual dismay. But the process
can take a long time to work itself out -- nearly a century, in the case
of racial segregation -- and no end of damage can occur in the meantime.
One of the byproducts of the campaign against Bush was to encourage Jihadis
and Ba'athists in Iraq with the assurance of a repetition of Saigon 1975
as soon as the mad and bad Bush 43 was gotten out of the way. This time,
the price was paid by the Iraqi people. But in the future, the bill may
be presented somewhat closer to home.
And as for the "worst president
in history" himself, George W. Bush has exhibited nothing but his accustomed
serenity. Despite the worst his enemies could throw at him, his rehabilitation
has already begun (as can be seen here,
He will be viewed at last as a man who picked up the worst hand of cards
dealt to any president since Roosevelt and who played it out better than
anyone had a right to expect. As Barack Obama seems to have realized, there
is much to be learned from Bush, a man who appears to personify the golden
mean, never too despondent, never too overjoyed, and never at any time
Other presidents may encounter the
same level of motiveless, mindless hatred, others may suffer comparable
abuse -- but we can sure that no one will ever meet it with more equanimity
than George W. Bush.