Mugger: Bush Comes To Shove

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As the 2008 presidential campaign rolls along, becoming nastier or more conciliatory depending on the day, one thing is clear: Liberal Democrats are scared shitless—with little reason, in my opinion—that once again they’ll be denied on Election Day in November. Remember the spate of news articles and op-ed columns in late 2004 (and not just confined to the Times), after the laconic John Kerry was narrowly defeated by George Bush, about the large number of affluent New Yorkers and Californians who were so depressed at the result that they couldn’t speak or eat, and sought refuge—or maybe doubled up their time—with a psychiatrist?

In the unlikely event that John McCain noses out Barack Obama this fall, it’s hard to imagine what the reaction will be from those investing so much of their time and psychic energy on electing a man who will relieve the United States from the Constitution-shredding, global warming flat-earthers and corporate lackeys who comprise the Bush administration.

I don’t suspect there will be a rash of skyscraper jumpers—that’s too 1929—but watch out for the reports of devastated voters snuffing themselves, either on purpose or accidentally, with a mixture of top-shelf vodka and Ambien. And it could finally happen that all those actors who swear they’ll move abroad if a Republican wins, actually will.

Consider the following proclamation from Josh Marshall—the well-regarded and successful creator of the partisan (but generally smart) Talking Points Memo—after Bush gave his now-notorious (at least among Democrats) speech at the Knesset earlier this month, in which he warned that negotiating with terrorists was similar to European appeasement in the 1930s as Hitler gallivanted across the continent. Needless to say, conservative blogs and publications and websites had a field day mocking Marshall, and they were right.

Marshall said: “In case you hadn’t heard yet, the president attacked Sen. Obama [Bush named no specific Democrats] as a terrorist coddler on the order of the late 30s Nazi-appeasers in a speech before the Israeli Knesset. As the president who’s probably done more to damage the country than any in 150 years, I can’t say I’m exactly surprised that he’d do this. But it really was disgusting, even for him.”

Several years ago, I met Josh and had an engaging conversation for an hour or so, and he struck me as a really good guy. Still is, I’m sure, but he’s clearly become unglued. Bush will not be regarded as a top-tier president by historians—although the verdict, I believe, won’t be as severe as is currently bandied about—but think about the lunacy of Marshall’s condemnation. Bush has “probably” done more damage to the United States since any president since 1858? So James Buchanan, who ignored the imminent Civil War, was a better president?
 Woodrow Wilson, a moralistic man who violently violated the Bill of Rights by jailing journalists who spoke out against the United States’ involvement in World War I, and stoked anti-immigrant fervor with his support of Prohibition, did less “damage” to U.S. democracy than Bush? I find it hard to fathom that Marshall and his ilk can rank the current president below Herbert Hoover, on whose watch, of course, the most devastating depression in U.S. history began.

Harry Truman, now a Democratic saint, was shunned for years by party members, derided as a man who was “stubborn” and a bumbler in hock to the Missouri political machine, who also gave the order to bomb Japan, sent armed men to their deaths in the Korean War and did little to stop the rise of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Maybe it’s not fair to burden Truman with the rise of McCarthyism—Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t much better. But I’d venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that the blacklisting, paranoia and ruin of decent people’s careers that McCarthy was largely responsible for trumps any of Bush’s mistakes. As for the economy—the current unemployment rate is 5 percent, although it’ll most likely tick up in the next year—is Bush worse than Jimmy Carter (who, by the way, did some bumbling himself in dealing with Iran)? Americans suffered through sky-high credit rates, double-digit inflation and an average unemployment rate of 7.7 during Carter’s four ignominious years as president.

At least Marshall doesn’t lard his commentary with purple prose; the same can’t be said for sportswriter/political provocateur Charles P. Pierce, the onetime buddy of John McCain who apparently considers his writing to be a combination of H.L. Mencken, Murray Kempton and I.F. Stone. Pierce, who in truth isn’t too bad on NPR’s Saturday program “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!,” swung for the bleachers with his horribly contrived Esquire (June issue) article “The Cynic and Senator Obama.” Since Pierce is more worldly, well-read and skeptical than the rest of us—especially the millions who’ve embraced Obama’s candidacy—he’s not about to get fooled again. Writing in the third person as “the cynic,” Pierce followed the Illinois senator on the campaign hustings this spring; and while he concedes Obama is tough, shrewd and smart, his closing plea (Pierce faults the de facto Democratic nominee for not calling for Bush’s impeachment, among other sins) is “Convince me. Convince me. Convince me.”

Although Pierce doesn’t go back into history as far as Marshall, it’s his contention that the United States hasn’t been a “great” country since LBJ shepherded civil rights legislation through Congress more than four decades ago. Since then, “The people of the United States have been accessorial in the murder of their country.” Now, maybe it’s just me being cynical, but if my recollection is correct Democrats in 2000 were whining that Bill Clinton wasn’t eligible to run for a third term—a travesty in their opinion, since he restored the country to greatness and was hardly complicit in its “murder.”

In the course of Pierce’s article he repeats this mantra five times about the present condition of the United States: “Someone will have to measure the wreckage. Someone will have to walk through the ruins. Someone will have to count the cost.” This really is the work of an unhinged man. Yes, it’s a conceit Pierce employs to express his doubt that Obama will be anything more than a normal politician, albeit one who speaks magnificently. But even though most liberals are eager to enumerate the list of Bush’s incompetent decisions, I haven’t come across anyone in those circles who draws such an apocalyptic, Guernica-like description of the United States today. Reading Pierce, you’d think he’d just toured Dresden at the conclusion of World War II.

Should McCain win in November, as a charitable man, I do hope that Pierce’s friends keep him away from sharp objects and the medicine and liquor cabinets.

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