Bush Hatred, Redux
Boy, the New Republic is having an interesting week. Having stirred up a big controversy among Democrats on foreign policy in Peter Beinart's cover feature in the latest issue, TNR Online also offers a colloquoy between Jonathan Chait and Jeffrey Rosen about a favorite intra-Democratic topic of discussion: is it appropriate, morally and politically, to hate George W. Bush and the Republican Party?
It's probably a good time to raise the subject, now that the election's over and we must all search for some semblence of equilibrium in how we will view politics between now and the next cycle. I will cheerfully admit that my own partisan fever exceeded its prior career high in late 2003, and kept going up right through election day. And for the first time in my life, I had a hard time understanding how friends and family members--people with whom I thought I shared a lot--could bring themselves to vote for the other guy. To put it bluntly, I didn't see any honest case for giving Bush a second term, and was angered by the dishonest case--he's done a brilliant job of fighting terrorists, he's a tower of wisdom and resolve, he's going to control big government, he's going to protect traditional values, he's got a second-term agenda to create an "ownership society"--advanced by his campaign.
Moreover, I came to believe strongly that the real agenda of the people closest to Bush--including his political advisors and much of the Republican congressional leadership--was not only dishonest, but deeply cynical and irresponsible: a drive to simultaneously wreck the federal government and to perpetuate their control over the wreckage as long as possible through the exercise of the rawest sort of institutional power and corruption. And moreover, this belief made me angry at even those Republicans who did not share that agenda, because they were helping to promote it against their own best instincts.
But do these feelings extend to Bush personally? Yes and no. On the one hand, many of his (perhaps contrived) red-state personality traits don't bother me, a red-state native, at all: the swagger, the nicknames, the scriptural references in his speeches, even the anti-intellectualism. Both Chait and Rosen say Bush reminds them of certain children of extreme privilege they knew in high school. I didn't know anybody who went to prep schools or had Ivy League--much less Top Ruling Class--aspirations when I was in high school, so Bush doesn't bring back those kind of memories. What I most dislike about Bush personally is his happy complicity in the GOP myth-making machine that treats him not as a rich kid who found a new spiritual home in Texas, but as the opposite: a salt-of-the-earth character who's achieved world-historical greatness as the Winston Churchill of his time. That's a double lie, and he lives it every day.
And maybe that's the bottom line. I think today's Republican Party, and its leader, are built on a foundation of fundamental dishonesty about who they are, what they want, and where they are taking the country. As a Christian, I will endeavor not to hate them for that. As an American, I will endeavor to respect those who voted for Bush, because after all, they have as much right to the franchise as I do. But until they demonstrate the ability to walk, or perhaps I should say swagger, in a straight line, I will continue to hold the president, his advisors, and his allies in Congress in minimum high regard. That did not change on November 3.