The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: Haters and Promises

Whether it's in or it's out, the right twists reality to suit its own views

By Louis Black, October 16, 2009, Columns

"Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency – nay – the very existence of George W. Bush. ...

"It is, of course, epidemic in New York's Upper West Side and the tonier parts of Los Angeles, where the very sight of the president – say, smiling while holding a tray of Thanksgiving turkey in a Baghdad mess hall – caused dozens of cases of apoplexy in otherwise healthy adults."

"The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from. Bush's manner is not particularly aggressive. He has been involved in no great scandals, Watergate or otherwise. He is, indeed, not the kind of politician who radiates heat. Yet his every word and gesture generate heat – a fury and bitterness that animate the Democratic primary electorate. ...

"Political fevers are a dangerous thing, however. The Democrats last came down with one in 1972 – and lost 49 states."

– pundit Charles Krauthammer, in The Washington Post and Time magazine, respectively

This is where the rubber hits the road, genius dwarfs good intentions, and arrogance trumps reason as the unashamedly audacious relentlessly shape everything (current events, poll results, quotes, legislation, politics) to fit the mold of their world-view. According to them, the Bush-haters were filled with such hatred of the last president that they would rabidly attack anything he did to such a degree as never seen before. Just the other day, some citizen who was verbally tearing President Obama to pieces added that this was okay because the attacks on Obama still had not reached the viciousness of the Bush-haters.

Given the right wing's almost visceral contempt of and disgust with Bill and Hillary Clinton, the positioning of Bush-hating as unique and extreme leaves one sputtering like Daffy Duck. In the Clintons' case, both were overwhelmingly hated by many – though as much for their attitudes, morals, what they represented, and who they were as for their politics. President Clinton was impeached because he lied when asked a question with almost no relevance except that it was solely designed to either damn him or get him to lie.

Almost as soon as President Bush got to Washington, on the other hand, his henchman Karl Rove began an unprecedented partisan assault on the government. Career bureaucrats with the wrong politics were driven out; when interviewed for international diplomatic jobs, candidates were asked their opinions on abortion; and major firms that did business with the government were pressured to shed Democratic employees.

Then, there was not just the tragedy of 9/11, but the way the administration squandered the unity of the American people in its aftermath. Consequently, there was an emphasis on homeland security, even if it abridged individuals' constitutional rights. There was a lot of legislation to deregulate, thereby dramatically reducing the government's watchdog role. In many cases in which deregulation didn't occur, the administration hampered enforcement, both overtly and by underfunding. There were tax cuts for the richest Americans. The invasion of Iraq, along with an arrogant approach to international diplomacy, alienated many countries long friendly to the U.S. Agencies of the government that had traditionally been independent instead were pressured into following partisan agendas. Believing that government doesn't work (even in areas where it had worked well for decades) made it easy to appoint inexperienced people in critical leadership roles – thus the nightmare of Katrina.

Our invasion of Iraq has only cost billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives, and U.S. prestige around the world. Nevertheless, invasion apologists continue to take the position Krauthammer articulated in Time a few years ago: "The current complaint is that Bush is a deceiver, misleading the country into a war, after which there turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction. But it is hard to credit the deception charge when every intelligence agency on the planet thought Iraq had these weapons and, indeed, when the weapons there still remain unaccounted for."

Asserting this about "every intelligence agency" is just untrue. Still, even if Hussein had such weapons, yet there was no indication of his intention to use them, would the invasion have made sense?

Among the many anti-Obama slogans shared by many of our good old, patriotic, right-wing American brethren – who believe that "patriotic" translates into "agrees with us" – is a short series accusing him of hating America and being ashamed of it. This is because he has apologized for some of our arrogant actions. Keep in mind that some of our European allies were militantly against the Iraq invasion. Many true-blue, patriotic Americans were disgusted with that attitude, asking, "Doesn't 'ally' mean 'cooperate together'?" At the time, the two-way-street nature of that question was completely ignored. Our allies turned out to be right, and this country would have done far better following their lead rather than disdaining them for not following ours.

"Bush Derangement Syndrome." "The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from. Bush's manner is not particularly aggressive." Huh?

Some Republicans and many right-wingers become rabid when it comes to President Obama, hating him beyond reason. The ridiculous birth-certificate controversy indicates how intense and deep they are willing to go over the shallowest issues.

When our conspiracy-hobbyist friends descend on an issue, about the only thing they guarantee is that it will forever remain unsolved. In the birth-certificate case, there is not a document that can be produced nor a statement from an authoritative figure or agency that they will all buy. Invariably, a significant percentage will insist that the document is a forgery and the statements are just lies. As the Kennedy assassination will never be "solved" and there will never be any significant progress made on 9/11 (maybe because they are wrong?), Obama's birthplace will remain an unknown.

Right-wingers cheered when the United States lost its bid for the Olympics because so many would rather see President Obama fail than this country succeed. The rejection of Chicago was exaggerated into an act of international emasculation.

Certainly, it was a blow to Obama's prestige – that is, until a week later, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Boy, did this set folks off.

On TV – with the same smug arrogance and East Coast/Ivy League way of speaking but nowhere near the brainpower of the late William F. Buckley Jr. – Bill Kristol opined that giving the award to Obama was anti-American or some such. By his definition, this was perfectly reasonable, as his world-view is so self-absorbed and U.S.-centric.

The Republicans' ability to stay on message, no matter what comes at them, has over the last decade proven their greatest political skill. Whether something does or does not have a basis in fact, if the public hears it repeated enough by a range of politicians, news reporters, pundits, and other citizens, it comes to seem real. Even the ridiculous begins to seem normal.

Unfortunately, lockstep sloganeering and daily spin were the only policies the Republicans mastered and about which they were consistent. If only they had been so committed to such longtime Republican positions as fiscal responsibility, reluctance to become too aggressively involved in the business of other nations, smaller government (including limiting governmental intrusion into the rights of citizens as well as trimming the bureaucracy), adherence to constitutional mandates, and stewardship of the land. Granted, if they had stuck to their platform, it also would have meant significant legislation that I would have found intolerable, but at least they would have accomplished something.

During the "discussion" over Obama's receipt of the Nobel Prize, we heard once again the argument that the world in general, but especially the Obama administration, had failed Iranian dissidents and the cause of freedom by not immediately giving them unconditional support during this summer's protests. If we had, they argue, maybe the people would have overthrown the government.

Now, those freedom-loving, right-wing Republican congressmen did drive Congress to offer just such support. Unfortunately, here is another pat situation for which history seriously muddies the waters. When the Hungarian people rose against the Soviet Union in 1956, the United States offered strong verbal support. When Soviet tanks rolled into the country, the U.S. was nowhere to be seen but was probably still cheering them on.

Kennedy made the decision not to supply the promised military backing during the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In the period immediately after the first Gulf War, when the Kurds and other Iraqi minorities intensified their anti-Hussein government activities, the U.S. government overtly and covertly pledged this country's support, making it clear that it stood strongly behind the dissenters. Unfortunately, it wasn't made clear just how far behind them it was standing. U.S. support has often been verbal and sympathetic, but when it has come to actually supplying weapons, committing troops, or even initiating pedal-to-the-metal diplomatic strategies – well, this country really meant that it would be there in spirit.

As a result, in Cuba, Hungary, and Iraq, resistance movements that felt emboldened because of promised United States support pushed their confrontational tactics to extremes. In those countries, many died still awaiting the U.S. military aid that they thought they had been promised.

There is no reason to think that Iran would have been treated differently.

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