The president's shrinking cohort of defenders still love to use the “Bush hater” epithet to dismiss the attacks of critics. The label is losing some of its potency as more and more people realize how bad a president Bush is, but it's long been a misnomer. I have never hated Bush, but I have long despised him. Check out the significant distinction with a little help from Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: hate
1: to feel extreme enmity toward [hates his country's enemies]
2: to have a strong aversion to : find very distasteful [hated to have to meet strangers] [hate hypocrisy]
intransitive senses: to express or feel extreme enmity or active hostility
Main Entry: de·spise
Function: transitive verb
1: to look down on with contempt or aversion [despised the weak]
2: to regard as negligible, worthless, or distasteful
There. Does that help? While I may hate (have a strong aversion to) the president's policies, I do not hate (feel extreme enmity toward) the president himself. No, him I merely despise (look down on with contempt). I realize that it is possible to hate and despise Bush at the same time, a feat he has worked hard to make easier for millions of Americans, but I prefer to maintain the distinction. After all, the term “Bush hater” is meant to imply an irrational animus that drives out dispassionate thought and reason. But we have reasons, all right.
The administration is dishonest. Fundamentally dishonest in all of its respects. The Bush White House lies about everything, both in words and in numbers. We shook our heads and rolled our eyes when Bill Clinton plaintively complained that it all depended on what the meaning of “is” is. Clinton, of course, was trying to avoid entrapment by Ken Starr for marital infidelities. (Funny how people who consider Hillary a witch from the pit of hell never thought it sufficient to leave Bill's punishment to her; they insisted on making a federal crime out of it.) Today, however, the misrepresentations of the Bush administration are designed to cover up more nefarious schemes:
- twisting intelligence into a casus belli for war in Iraq;
- looting the Federal treasury with tax cuts labeled as economic stimuli;
- pretending political cronies (even college drop-outs) have qualifications for their appointed offices;
- gutting environmental standards while claiming the exact opposite;
- subjecting scientific research and results to ideological tests and religious dogma.
The propped-up politician
Surely a lousy president merits our derision. Jimmy Carter had abuse heaped on his head when he failed to sufficiently inspire the nation during the energy crisis or when our embassy personnel were held hostage by the Iranian ayatollah. (Now that the energy crisis is making a big comeback, so is Carter's reputation. He was a prophet without honor in his own country.) But I can think of other reasons to despise the current president. It's the disgust of the teacher who sees lazy and lack-witted students showered with success in spite of their loutish indolence. Many of us in the teaching profession see education as the great democratic engine of the meritocracy. Earned merit, that is. To me, Bush is the perfect example of the boozy frat boy who ends up in a position of privilege because of who he is, not because of anything he's done to deserve it. Bush has “legacy” written all over him. That's hard to stomach.
Some scions of wealthy families have a sense of noblesse oblige, giving back something to the society in which their fortunes have prospered. This attitude can be gratingly patronizing, but at its best it represents a respectable basis for public service in preference to the life of the idle rich. One could even argue that George Herbert Walker Bush fits this pattern, following the footsteps of his father, U.S. Senator Prescott Bush. I decline, however, to give George W. Bush similar credit. As the most recent politician inflicted on America by the Bush family, George W.'s rise to prominence was not based on the brilliance of his academic career as a cheerleader and “gentleman scholar” at Yale. There his presence in a classroom was best known as a sure indicator of a cream-puff course. He spent his years in school in pursuit of good times rather than preparing himself for any future vision of his role in society.
There have, of course, been vigorous efforts to make George W. Bush's rise to the pinnacle of American politics into something more than the slight lifting up of someone who was already pretty high. Bush is given much credit, in some corners, for overcoming his wastrel youth and making something of himself. There may be a grain of truth in this. While his business “successes” were another symptom of his sterling connections, George was well on the way to destroying himself with drugs and alcohol when he found religion, as they say, and supposedly straightened out his life. Dr. Stephen Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush, spoke to this point in a talk recently broadcast on D. James Kennedy's Truths that Transform radio program. The installment for May 25, 2006, carried the title The Call of the Warrior (Part II) and included the following remarks by Mansfield:
Would you let me talk for just a moment—if I'm not playing politics—about George W. Bush? When we were writing this book, I sent a research team out to Midland, Texas, and Odessa. And do you know, when they talked about George W. Bush, you know what word they used more than any other? They used the word “lightweight.” He was the lightweight at the end of the bar who thought he was increasingly humorous the more whisky that he had. Everybody thought he was a joke. His marriage was failing, his business was failing, and he was absolutely a fool in comparison to his famous father. That's what everyone told us.These words, mind you, are by an admirer and supporter, a biographer who uses Bush as an example of the benefits of religious conversion. In a small way, that may be true, but Mansfield doesn't seem to realize what it really meant when George W. decided to become clean and sober. Whether it was religion or simply hating the feeling of being a joke to everyone that enabled Bush to rehabilitate himself, the end result was a man with the right name and the right connections for a political career. The GOP apparatchiks quickly took over the management of George's career and his handlers turned him into a viable candidate, first for governor of Texas and then, to our eternal regret, president. Since then, George W. Bush has been completely and utterly faithful. That is manifestly true.
And then, by his own words, somewhere around the age of 39, he had a born-again experience. Now all I know is this: twelve years later he was the Republican nominee for president of the United States. Something happened in his life. From the man who was the lightweight to the man who—whether he is your president or not is not the issue, I mean, in the sense that you endorse him—but a man who at least is living a life of significance in our generation. And I've got to tell you George Bush entered the presidency with the thinnest résumé in American history. I'll leave it to the ladies as to whether he's the best-looking president that we've ever had. He's probably not the most intelligent president that we've ever had, and I mean no insult.
I'm not speaking of his religion, because I have no idea whether his faith is genuine or merely a useful political prop. I mean that George has been completely faithful to the moneyed interests that engineered his career. Even as his policies create wrack and ruin in all sectors of the country, Bush never waffles, never varies from serving his benefactors.
That takes faith.