On Bush-hatred and its causes
I recently received an e-mail expressing some thoughts about Bush that seem fairly representative of those who detest the man, and offering up a theory as to why:
Isn't his shallow narcissism obvious every time he opens his mouth? After all, this is a guy who has always lived in a bubble of the most extreme privilege...I don't think he's ever doubted his right to privileged status, and I think there's something pathological in that. I think this is why so many people hate him so.
Here is an edited and shortened version of my reply:
I'd rather have a President with what you describe as Bush's "shallow narcissism" than Kerry's extraordinarily deep narcissism any day. Just about all politicians are narcissists, as far as I can see--doesn't it take narcissism to do what they do? Bush is a narcissist on that typical level, in my opinion--he just conceals it less well than most.
I think that many people hate Bush for stylistic reasons. The way he talks, the way he smirks, the frat-boy persona--he represents the kind of person they simply detested in high school and college (particularly if they were the intellectual or literary sort). They distrust and dislike him in a very visceral way.
I am old enough to remember the reaction among Democrats to Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. They detested him--his good ol' boy accent, his picking up his dog by the ears, his showing off his surgical scars--man, they just hated him; he had no class. Kennedy was the absolute personification of smoothness and class, so witty and bright and charming, and that New England accent!
But, in the end, that's all surface stuff. Was Kennedy's actual record as President much better--or really all that much different--than Johnson's? Of course, we can't know whether Kennedy would have done any better with the Vietnam war than Johnson did, but from books such as The Best and the Brightest, I think the answer is at least "probably not." Perhaps, though, he may have ultimately done better because he would have had a more friendly press.
FDR and Kennedy were also children of great privilege--as great, or greater, than Bush. But they had that Eastern style, and great personal magnetism, that he lacks. And, of course, many people hated them--but not the press, and not academics.
But at this point, I couldn't care less what sort of style a President has. What I care about are his policies. It's easy to find fault with Bush's policies--and yes, the war is far from perfect; it's all far from perfect. But I'm not interested in holding anyone up to some unrealistic ideal. Most of the arguments I've read on the left about what should have been done range from the pipedream (the UN, internationalism) to the extreme pipedream (the Iraqis should have risen up against Saddam themselves) to the ridiculous pipedream (everything should have been planned perfectly, as no doubt it would have been had they been in charge).
It's easy to say, ex post facto, that it would have been better to have done...(fill in the blank). But that can be said of any enterprise. The hard part is to have the courage to do it in the first place, to make the inevitable mistakes, and to try to correct them as the events unfold in real time. I actually think the Bush administration has done that rather well, and I see no evidence that the opposition could have done anywhere near as well. Au contraire.