The Magazine

Bush's Greatness

From the September 13, 2004 issue: There's a good reason he infuriates the reactionary left.

Sep 13, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 01 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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Notice (it is a thing we will have to explain) that this man hates Bush not because of but despite the facts. Has the Republican Congress decreed a U.S. version of the Nuremberg race laws? Has the administration transformed every American news source into a propaganda machine? Demanded that Jews (or anyone) be fired? That Jewish (or any other kind of) shops, businesses, professionals be boycotted? Propaganda posters everywhere? Students thrown out of schools? Secret police grabbing people off the streets? Children urged to inform on parents? All opposition parties banned? Churches harassed? A "Bush Youth" that every "Aryan" boy must join? Storm-troopers holding torchlight parades, singing hate-mongering war songs? Gigantic communal fines levied against Jews (or anyone else)? State-sponsored pogroms? Massive regimentation and rearmament? A führer cult and special schools to train disciples? Brutal suppression of all regime opponents? No? Actually America under Bush resembles Nazi Germany in no way whatsoever, isn't that so? Then why did you lie and say it did?

One hears many similar accusations nowadays. The Bush administration is spending blood for oil, hopes to expand its imperialist reach, intends to dominate and oppress the Iraqi people, is the world's leading threat to peace. Hates Muslims, despises our allies, plans to suppress the Bill of Rights. There is a name for this kind of hatred--the kind that shrugs off reality, loves to mock its targets and treat them as barely human, capable of any outrage, unspeakably stupid and evil. There is a name for the kind of hatred that applies automatically to any member of a designated group--in this case to American conservatives and especially white, religious American conservatives. The name of this hatred is racism.

We can't understand hatred like the German survivor's or Michael Moore's or a million self-righteous left-wingers' unless we understand that their Bush-hatred is racist hatred.

"Race" has traditionally meant any group that seems like a group, with a recognizable group identity--Americans, British, Jews, Japanese were all called "races." The Oxford English Dictionary says that a "race" is (among other things) "a group or class of persons . . . having some common feature or features." Thus "the race of good men" (1580), "a race of idle people" (1611), "a new race of poets" (1875). The newspaper humorist Don Marquis once wrote about "the royal race of hicks." Racist hatred has clearly recognizable characteristics:

* The hater knows all about his target automatically; no research required. Recall how many leftists were shocked when Bob Woodward informed them, in his Bush book, that the president was an alert, hands-on manager. They had known this to be false a priori.

* The hater harbors a stupendous conceit. Not long ago an Ivy League philosophy professor explained the political homogeneity of so many philosophy departments. Pure merit, he said; you have to be smart to be a philosophy professor, and conservatives are dumb, so what can you expect?

* The hater is moved by a terrible, frantic eagerness to set himself apart from "them." In the spring of 2003, an American pop-singer announced to her London audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

* The hater just knows that his opponent acts not on principle but out of greed or stupidity. At an anti-Iraq war demonstration in March 2004, the actor Woody Harrelson read a poem. "I recognize your face, I recognize your name. / Your daddy killed for oil, and you did the same." We often hear this "blood for oil" accusation. After the first Gulf War we had Iraqi and Kuwaiti oilfields in our grasp. If our goal was to steal oil, why did we give them back? Are we that stupid?

* The hater has no shame--because he knows (not by reason but automatically) that he is right. Thus a decent and likable retired businessman, rich and with every reason to be grateful to America--the survivor of Nazi Germany I've mentioned--accuses the president of closet fascism.

That's racist hatred.

I DON'T SAY that all Bush-haters are racist. By no means. We have a long tradition of super-heated politics in this country. Everyone is entitled to hate the president and do his best to get rid of him.

The racist attacks I have in mind come from the reactionary left--not from the average registered Democrat, in other words, but from the liberal elite.

Reactionaries recoil from new ideas and try to suppress and defeat them. They want things to stay the same. Hence their racist hatred of uppity white conservatives, who have developed the cheek to threaten the left's cultural power. Such institutions as Fox News and the conservative Washington think tanks are hugely disturbing to reactionary liberals. The president faces the same thinking as he tries to set policy for post-Cold War America. Reactionary liberals want everything to stay just the same. All trends must continue just as they have been. (Judges must continue to subvert democracy; Congress must continue to create new entitlements.) We must treat the new totalitarians just the same as we once were forced to treat the Soviets--gingerly. Our goal must be not to liberate their victims, not to defeat and disarm their military machines, but to arrange détente with their dictators--just as we once did. (Détente with Saddam was French and Russian policy until we screwed things up.) Our antiquated pre-cell phone, pre-microchip laws and regulations must stay just the same (kill the Patriot Act!), and we must sit still and wait politely for the next terrorist outrage, just as we always have.

Bush has a simple message for the reactionary left: The times change and we change with them. He is a progressive conservative--and a progressive president in the best sense. And he has established his greatness in record time.

David Gelernter, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, teaches computer science at Yale.