Monday, February 12, 2007

Defining Bush: A Compassionate Imperialist?

By now, we know that Bush is not a typical Republican. We know he's not a moderate, though that's what he ran as in 2000. We know he's not a Goldwater conservative; Goldwater's politics are now too liberal for Bush. We know fiscal conservatism is not his thing. How do we define him, then? Perhaps by letting Bush define himself.

Melinda Henneberger of The Huffington Post caught this exchange on C-Span during an interview of Bush:
When the interviewer made a reference to "Goldwater Republicans," and "Rockefeller Republicans," he chuckled -- his word -- and stopped the questioner from finishing his thought.

"I'm just chuckling because I think 'Goldwater Republicans' and 'Rockefeller Republicans' are pretty far past," the president said. "That's rude of me to chuckle, but I would be cautious about stereotyping philosophies."

Okay, his interviewer said mildly, but what he'd really wanted to know was how (George W.) Bush Republicans would be defined, and what images the phrase "Bush Republican" might summon for future generations.

And suddenly, it was 2000 again; Mr. Bush did not mention 9/11 or the global war on terror, Iraq or Afghanistan, Saddam or bin Laden: "Compassionate conservatism" was his legacy, he declared, and referred to the faith-based initiatives we haven't heard much about in subsequent years. "I made a name by being compassionate."

Now, to be fair to the president, Bush says things all the time that aren't connected to reality. One has to take everything he says with a grain of salt. But if he really does believe that this presidency is about 'being compassionate,' how does he explain his war in Iraq? Did compassion lead him to lie to the American people? Did compassion lead to the special rendition programs and the excessive use of torture? Was Abu Ghraib and the leveling of Fallujah about compassion?

Perhaps we have misunderstood Bush's war in Iraq. The war, as far as Bush was concerned, really was over when he strutted on the aircraft carrier. Iraq has been an American colony since April of 2003 and Bush is just your friendly compassionate imperialist having trouble with his colonial subjects.

Okay, I'm being sarcastic. It's entirely possible that Bush is being sarcastic. But let's assume Occam's razor, that the simplest explanation is that the president meant what he said in the above exchange. To repeat, that means we have a president, this president, who says his legacy is that he will be remembered for 'being compassionate.' How do we get our arms around such an idea? How do we talk about it in a way that is respectful without being dishonest? Frankly, how do we talk about it without being alarmed by the president's disconnect from any rational understanding of his failing presidency?

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Bush doesn't think the way you or I think, the way John Kerry or John Warner thinks.

Remember, Bush is a primitive thinker, two-dimensional all the way. Consequently, I think he began the interview by making a quick judgment about the interviewer and the setting: friend or foe, agreeable or hostile.

His answer tells me he decided on foe and probably hostile. So, he answered the question with what he wanted in the written transcript, without any concern about how absurd that answer might seem to millions of Americans.

Why no concern? Because those millions, too, would qualify as foes.

Primitive thinkers are big on sizing people up and from then on acting on the judgment they've arrived at. They're not big on changing that judgment, even in the face of new evidence.

Another aspect of primitive thinking involves status.

As Bush sees things, he's the president, the decider. Everyone else falls into one of two broad categories: friends who are loyal and unquestioning, and enemies.

Furthermore, in his view no C-SPAN interviewer (or any other) is worthy of being able to put a president, him or any president, on the spot with questions that make him uncomfortable, make him look or sound bad, or that seek to elicit an answer he doesn't want to give.

I'm sure Bush realizes he's never going to get everyone to agree with his views or admire how he arrives at them. What's more, he knows he doesn't have to. Until mid-January 2009 he's in the catbird seat; that's the deal.

Primitive thinkers see great virtue in keeping things that simple.

I'm president and you're not, so there.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., I met my first primitive thinker when I was seven. He was also seven and the only child of wealthy parents. He would bring out his latest toy and demand that we play according to his rules (which changed about every 15 minutes), and if we didn't, he just simply took his toy home. It's more convoluted now but that's our president.

12:12 AM  

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