Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Is Bush Hatred Justified? Why Character Assasination Makes For Bad Politics
There seems to be many strands of Bush hatred in the political discourse, which I think warps our perception of politics. The vitriol devoted toward proving that Bush is or is not evil pollutes the ethico-political environment, and transforms politics from deliberation on rational-legal norms to referendum on charismatic leaders. If one buys into Weberian ideal types, it is a historical regression from public rationality to a politics of cults of personality.
However, while the mode of criticism is quite sad, the stuff of criticism are those policies about which we have not debated as a society, namely the war and the Bush's unapologetic and divisive leadership after 2000. Two case examples, one criticizing the Bush foreign policy team
, and, the other his second inauguration encapsulate this dynamic.
Gary Kamiya writes, "In a just world, Bush, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Feith and their underlings would be standing before a Senate committee investigating their catastrophic failures, and Packer's book would be Exhibit A." No. In a just world, these people would be taken out and shot. As for Packer, and his unwillingness to believe his own eyes, he may not realize or admit it, but there were plenty of antiwar lefties who knew before the war that the Bush team didn't have a chance. The fact is that the election of 2000 revealed the Bush team for anyone who was willing to look -- they were and are cheaters -- always willing to use illegality and dishonesty to try to get what they want, and what they want is something for themselves, not for the public interest, whether that public is the American public or the Iraqi public. To a man, they knew nothing about war. The "moral innocence" was theirs. They intended to visit suffering upon some people very far away for their own purposes. Packer and all the pro-war hawks are as corrupt as the neocons are, because they retain some sort of sentimental attachment to their former idealism about whether "war" can be good or bad. A war of independence has to come from those who want to be liberated -- many of us "soft" lefties knew that.
The war in Iraq was a cheat from beginning to end. It could not have turned out any differently. The very idea of Packer and Berman and the others sitting in the U.S. and vaporing on about manipulating Iraqi lives and politics is deeply disgusting. Packer may have made some progress toward redemption by writing a good book, but until he admits that he never knew what he was talking about before the war, and that antiwar protesters did know what they were talking about, he is still in the dark hole, and deserves to remain there.
This second piece
is about his second inauguration, which blends disgust over divisiveness with a critique of competence.
George Bush's second inaugural extravaganza was every bit as repugnant as I had expected, a vulgar orgy of triumphalism probably unmatched since Napoleon crowned himself emperor of the French in Notre Dame in 1804.
The little Corsican corporal had a few decent victories to his escutcheon. Lodi, Marengo, that sort of thing. Not so this strutting Texan mountebank, with his chimpanzee smirk and his born-again banalities delivered in that constipated syntax that sounds the way cold cheeseburgers look, and his grinning plastic wife, and his scheming junta of neo-con spivs, shamans, flatterers and armchair warmongers, and his sinuous evasions and his brazen lies, and his sleight of hand theft from the American poor, and his rape of the environment, and his lethal conviction that the world must submit to his Pax Americana or be bombed into charcoal.
Difficult to know what was more repellent: the estimated $US40 million cost of this jamboree (most of it stumped up by Republican fat-cats buying future presidential favours), or the sheer crassness of its excess when American boys are dying in the quagmire of Bush's very own Iraq war.
Other wartime presidents sought restraint. Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865 - "with malice toward none, with charity for all" - is the shortest ever. And he had pretty much won the Civil War by that time.
In 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened his fourth-term speech with the "wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief". He spoke for a couple of eloquent minutes, then went off to a light lunch, his wartime victory almost complete as well.
But restraint is not a Dubya word. Learning nothing, the dumbest and nastiest president since the scandalous Warren Harding died in 1923, Bush is now intent on expanding the Iraq war to neighbouring Iran.
Condoleezza Rice did admit to the US Senate this week that there had been some "not so good" decisions. But the more I see of her gleaming teeth and her fibreglass helmet of hair and her perky confidence, the more I am convinced that back in the '60s she used to be Cindy Birdsong, up there beside Diana Ross as one of the Supremes of Motown fame. I don't think it's a good idea to let her make a comeback as Secretary of State.
THE war in Iran is under way already, if we believe Seymour Hersh, the distinguished investigative writer for The New Yorker magazine.
Hersh reported this week that clandestine US special forces have been on the ground there, targeting nuclear facilities to be bombed whenever Bush feels the time is ripe.
"The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran's ability to go nuclear," he wrote, quoting reliable intelligence sources.
"But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership."
Naturally, Pentagon flacks rushed out to deny all. But then they did that when Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, and again when he revealed the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A tussle for the truth between Hersh and the Pentagon is no contest.
What terrifies me most is the people planning this new war. The CIA professionals have been frozen out: too weak and wimpy for the Bushies.
The Defence Secretary, the incompetent Donald Rumsfeld, has seized control, aided by two Pentagon under-secretaries. One is Douglas Feith, a mad-eyed Zionist largely responsible for the post-invasion collapse of order in Iraq, a civilian bureaucrat memorably described by the former Centcom commander, General Tommy Franks, as "the f---ing stupidest guy on the face of the Earth".
The other is army Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, whose name also rings a bell. Jerry is a born-again Christian evangelical, a three-star bigot who, in his spare time, stumps the country in full uniform, preaching that America's enemy is Satan, Allah is a false idol, and that George Bush has been ordained by the Lord to rout evil.
"He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this," Jerry told a prayer meetin' in Oregon just a while back.
Be very afraid.
I FEEL as sick as a parrot, so to speak, for my part in Mark Latham: His Downfall. It was me who devised the wicked ALP policy of bringing the troops back from Iraq by Christmas last year. In a 2UE radio interview with Latham last March I suggested that exact phrase, "home by Christmas". He evidently liked it. He grabbed it, repeated it and ran with it to electoral disaster. Mea culpa.
This week's orgy of ALP number-crunching is tedious beyond measure. But I would like to offer the powerbrokers one more piece of advice, if I may: for heaven's sake, tell Kim Beazley to stick a sock in it.
Kim is a lovely man in every way, but his speech announcing his run for the leadership took most of an afternoon to deliver, and on into the night. Attendant hacks were dropping dead from boredom. For all we know, he was still droning on at sunrise next morning.
The politics of charisma, however, folds otherwise helpful policy debates into estimation of character and competence, and, aggregates issues that should be considered separately if we wanted to maximize the voter's interest. The fact that many of my liberal friends find Bush to be a dithering toad means that they can write off his successes as luck, and his failures as inevitable. When personalities become the central focus, the opposition's assuredness of themselves acquires a messianic megalomania, convinced of their own rightness and their inevitable triumph. The Democrats, thus, do not need to do anything
because they believe that are right, intelligent, and conscientious as opposed to the evil, divisive, dithering dimwitted President.
Charismatic politics not only prevents rational-legal discourses, but also impugnes the policies of controversial figures, like Secretary of State Rice, or Senator Hilary Clinton, whose ideas alone qualify them to lead this nation in 2008.