Friday, November 25, 2005

On Hating Bush

The Lynch Mob Meme, part III

It is sometimes asserted that those who hate Bush do so in a plain reversal of the peckerwood prejudice against Slick Willy Clinton, he of the so very threatening panache and intellect. And there’s some truth to this. Surely, some of the reason the peckerwoods hated Clinton is because he himself is a peckerwood who somehow got himself above them. It’s got the same roots as the so-called “narcissism of small differences”, that tendency of most the virulent hatreds to flourish between people most alike. Indeed, it is worth another little digression to consider Clinton Hatred here. The man from Hope has a quintessential American Dream story (even if it’s got some schmutz on it). He went from a modest background to the White House by dint of hard work, charm, nerve and cunning. And then he was by millions hated for it, reviled as Slick Willy. The resentment many Americans focused on Clinton is very reminiscent of that which bourgeois Germans directed at their Jewish countrymen. Many German Jews, mindful of horrific histories and precarious prospects, had sought to secure their positions in German society by dint of hard work, education and accumulated wealth. The more complacent gentiles around them were envious, and especially when persuaded, violently resentful of such Jewish success. The Jews were too cunning, too sly, too slick for their own good, they believed, and then some set about operationalizing that belief.

Leaving aside for now, the many good reasons to oppose W. and his policies, many upper middle class citizens seem to hate the man blindly, but not, it seems, as a result of propaganda. The projective content of this hatred is worth examining. I propose that many find in Bush an objective correlative for their own subjective moral misgivings. Bush, in many ways is us. He is not some exotic moral monster like Idi Amin or Hitler or Saddam; his sins (at least prior to his elections) have been mostly venial. Like most bourgeois, he is mostly (as the vile French are wont to say) “capable of any crime that does not require courage.”

W. is manifestly a slacker. It’s perfectly obvious that, like many of us Boomers to varying degrees, W is a skirt-chasing, draft-dodging, buzz-catching, corner-cutting, tax-cheating, expense-padding, spotlight-hogging, self-deluding, browbeating, bullying bullshitter – above all he’s self-indulgent. He has enjoyed a series of largely figurehead jobs for which he was not qualified and which he did rather badly, preferring to cherry- pick the perks, the ego strokes, and the ladders up, rather than do the actual work. (He might have found a happy niche in Hollywood had he the slightest gift for gab.) He has been, in all things, no better than he had to be. But we know many such, know them as such, and do not hate them. We may even enjoy or cultivate their company for various ignoble slacker reasons of our own. So why do we hate W. so?

Not all Americans fit the slacker’s profile I’ve just presented, and, perhaps precisely to the extent they do not, many of these people harbor no particular hatred for Bush. Many do not recognize Bush as such a person, innocently (or perhaps negligently) taking the carefully cultivated corporate fiction (the repentant, straight-shooting Christian Cowboy) for the real thing. We might negatively acount for this myopia, particularly among those not so spoiled by privileged upbringing, by invoking the slacker’s equivalent of Gaydar: “It takes one to know one.” And know Bush for one of us we do, viscerally.

Many others are also like ourselves, and like Bush is, but they celebrate his ascendance. These are perhaps the most morally untroubled individuals, they serenely accept or ignore their own shortcomings and misdemeanors, often through an all-encompassing sense of entitlement. They do not project their troubled consciences onto Bush, either because their consciences do not trouble them (they believe that this is just what men do), or because like Bush, and very often with Bush, they have opted for other projective strategies. So again, why do the dark hobbyists of the political internet seem to hate Bush so?

Some of it is incidental, or accidental. We partly hate Bush for the same reason, and with precisely as much moral force, as many Bostonians hate the New York Yankees. We were born into Democratic families or turned up that path in college, and so the coin just falls on that side. Then too, much of our hatred is rooted in Bush’s hypocritical sanctimony, his own insistence on the born-again moral clarity with which he claims to see the world. But here too, in the moral clarity with which we seem to see the world, we may be rightly caught out in our own projective fallacy, in the projective nature of our own Bush-hatred. For the hatred of the sanctimony is in itself hypocritically sanctimonious. Sure, we say, I may have indulged in any number of the above-referenced peccadilloes, but, ‘I didn’t sell out the Harken stockholders! I didn’t steal an election! I didn’t lie us into war? I didn’t …!’ But in truth, many of us didn’t do these things primarily because, in the accident of our births, the opportunity to do so was not given to us by the powers that be. Virtually all of us are eminently capable of the incremental denial, equivocating, rationalizing et cetera, that has led Bush to do many of the destructive and immoral things he has done. We are cut out of the same moral cloth, however differently ours may be patterned.

There is a deep problem with the slacker’s Bush hatred: true to form, it’s self-indulgent. The manic energy that keeps us surfing through the left-wing tunnels of the internet, in far too many cases, is a sort of bad-love neurosis. It’s obsessive behavior, it comes from the same lobe that drives the stalker, the addict, the Bennett-style gambler; it’s a hobby, elevated to mortal need or High Purpose, which takes over our lives and drains off energy and resources that might be devoted to our work, our loved ones, or even our country. It arguably sours the discourse, and makes the language of our arguments more aversive than convincing. It makes the job a Crusade, precisely because it’s more fun to go on a Crusade than to work. But perhaps we shouldn’t indulge ourselves so, for there is much patient, clear-eyed, dispassionate work to be done, if the Bush administration is to be hobbled, and its damage is to be undone.

This said, it should be asked: can one rationally despise Bush, the man, without merely giving voice to one’s own self-loathing? The answer is yes, certainly, for there is also a very real sense in which W. is not one of us, and is becoming less so every day. There are, owing to his birth, certain unfortunate quantitative, qualitative and even existential differences between W. and the more average slacker, and these are being exacerbated daily by the stresses of a job for which he is woefully inadequate, by the deranging effects of fame and power, and by his lifelong and fast-deepening isolation from the world of cause and effect, acts and consequences. (To be continued....)


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