The Magazine

Inside the Bubble

The looney left's articles of faith.

Aug 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 45 • By JEREMY RABKIN
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Yet it doesn't seem to have the punch you would expect, even with those who invoke this claim. If you believe the president really told deliberate lies to take the country to war for personal or idiosyncratic reasons, you must believe the president behaved monstrously. But none of the Democratic witnesses--and none of the Democratic members of the committee--could keep their focus on the war. They also wanted to talk about Bush's abuse of executive privilege (by refusing to let White House personnel testify in congressional investigations), his abuse of signing statements (putting his own interpretation on enrolled bills while still signing them into law), allegations that he gave preference to Republicans at the Justice Department--charges that shouldn't be in the same league with wrongly dragging the nation into war.

I made this point in my initial statement. Why talk about anything else, if you really think the president is guilty of starting a war for personal or frivolous reasons? It's what I meant when I said the committee should recall that "the rest of the country is not necessarily in this same bubble in which people think it is reasonable to describe the president as if he were Caligula." No one noticed. We went on for hours reviewing the possible illegality of executive privilege claims, detention policies at Guantánamo, and other issues of secondary rank.

But then there was a response. The C-SPAN audience was enraged. At least some of them were. My BlackBerry started buzzing even while I was sitting at the witness table. "BUSH IS WORSE THAN CALIGULA!!!!" More and more came my way over the next three days. Perhaps not a scientific sample, but it was as interesting as the "polls" they run on FOX or CNN where they ask viewers to "vote" on the question of the day. At least I didn't ask these people to contact me. From my sample--of 60 or so--I can say that nine out of ten were very, very angry.

They were angry at Bush, of course. They were angry at me for remarks they interpreted as defending Bush. They were most angry at me for speaking of them--the people so angry at Bush--as figures worthy of ridicule. Quite a few of them wanted me to know about their educational attainments, more wanted me to know how carefully they have watched congressional hearings, many more wanted me to know about the books and websites they have studied to reach their conclusions. "Don't call me crazy" was the usual point.

But, of course, quite a few couldn't be seen as anything else. A few wanted to go back to the events of 9/11: "Basic physics and common sense" disprove the official story that the Twin Towers were knocked down by a handful of terrorists in two airplanes. Some told me to "get down from your Ivory Tower," apparently under the impression that universities are dominated by Republican snobs. A few wanted to share their views on the Jewish Question, ranting about "Wolfowitz" and "the Jewish neo-cons." One dismissed me and mine as "Illuminati scum."

From professorial habit (in an era when email has largely replaced office hours), I made some response to every message. To my surprise, I found that many people offered reasonably polite replies, thanking me for responding to their messages and trying to respond to the one or two points I had offered them. The usual thing I pointed out was that, if they were angry at me for questioning impeachment, they should be more angry at Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama who had much more to do with the failure of this Congress to open serious impeachment proceedings. Yes, said various respondents, good point. I'm mad at them, too. And "I didn't mean to say you don't have the right to your own opinions."

So I'm left with a horrifying thought. The acolytes of "Bush lied!" won't go away when Bush leaves the White House. But they won't become terrorists, either. They will settle into one of those domesticated cults, mixing apocalyptic claims with genial demeanor: "The End of the World is Upon Us--Please Give Generously." Even our darkest obsessions may end with "Have a nice day."

Jeremy Rabkin is a professor of law at George Mason University.