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Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2003 / 9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Barbara Amiel

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No wonder Bush inspires hatred | LONDON — "Bush Hatred" is on the boil. His name ignites conversation like kerosene. I've heard Americans gloat over their own casualties in Iraq, as if every death were a stab in Bush's heart alone rather than in American soldiers, so profound is their hatred.

A polemic in the New Republic last month by senior writer Jonathan Chait began: "I hate President George W Bush." Chait's reasons included Bush's "lack of humility", his family background, "his lame nickname-bestowing", as well as (and perhaps even more than) his policies.

This venom is matched in Left-wing British circles. In September, the Guardian ran a vicious psychological profile claiming that Bush's "deep hatred" of both his parents gave him a "death wish", in addition to making him an "authoritarian fundamentalist". The profile was written by pop psychologist Dr Oliver James, who was trashed by the Guardian a couple of years earlier when he profiled Peter Mandelson in a similar piece of nonsense for The Telegraph.

Most arguments justifying the enmity to Bush simply lack logic. Bush's political success is attributed to his family connections and frowned on as an abuse of America's meritocratic tradition. But privilege and a family "hand up" have never bothered commentators before - so long as the silver spoon was in the left side of the mouth, as with a Kennedy, Roosevelt or Rockefeller. Bush's religious utterances may drive some barmy, but are perfectly at home in a country whose money has "In G-d We Trust" on every coin and note. I found the Southern Baptist mannerisms of the Clintons equally infuriating. Watching a seated row of Clintonites led by Hillary, nodding heads in agreement whenever their leader spoke, as if they were at church, reminded me of a team of horses with nosebags, walking, nodding and eating at the same time. The Clintonites stopped short of shouting "Hallelujah!" but the effect was unspeakably annoying.

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The malapropisms of Bush stand in stark contrast to the fluency of many other American presidents, but one can't dismiss as an idiot a man who graduated from Yale and got a Master's in Business from Harvard. Whatever one thinks of the MBA as a degree, and I don't think much of it, Harvard's is as tough as they come - family pedigree won't get you through. Whether Bush's aphasic speech is a function of nerves in public or a corny device to lower expectations of him, it hasn't stood in the way of a remarkable political career. Insiders, such as ex-speechwriter David Frum, note that in private Bush suffers not a whit of the apparent dyslexia he manifests in public.

Bush, writes Chait, is a pampered frat boy "masquerading" as a rough-hewn Texan. True, Bush wasn't born and raised in Texas, but I suppose if you are governor of that state (and the only one in its history elected twice; the second time with a huge majority) and you like the place, it makes sense to become a Texas convert. After that, the "more Catholic than the Pope" syndrome kicks in. Leslie Howard, a Hungarian Jew, managed to become the archetypal Englishman in his conversion. Lord Byron came close to converting to a Greek in his adulation of their culture. No one, though, can match the zeal of zoologist Dian Fossey, who wanted to become a gorilla. Bush, fortunately, doesn't want to cross the species barrier.

At the bottom of Bush Hatred is, I suspect, a personality so strongly defined that it automatically provokes an acute response. In Bush's case, his style and manners embody everything his opponents dislike about the period he represents. This happens rarely, but when it does the response is dramatic. Bill Clinton's Sixties "I feel your pain" approach to ideas was bad enough; if he had worn a small ponytail as well, I might have gone ballistic.

Bush's ponytail is his walk: he swings his arms as if they were hovering over gun holsters. When he heaves into view, his midriff stiff as a board and his smallish head turning to cast stern cowboy looks left and right, he appears to be expecting a posse of Red Indians. His buttoned-up cowboy is the very opposite of the hang-loose Sixties.

Behind personality looms ideology. The hostility to Bush, as the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger has pointed out in a series of columns, is linked to America's Culture Wars. "Culture Wars" is one of those imprecise expressions that mean something slightly different to everyone who uses the phrase. It can embrace divisions between conservatives and contemporary liberals, between the religious Right and Henninger's "non-religious Left", as well as those favoring the interventionist state and defenders of the primacy of individual liberty. Henninger dates the start of the wars to the 1973 Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision striking down restrictions on abortion, a decision that jump-started the abortion issue and feminism.

In my interpretation, Culture Wars refers largely to the split between the 40-50 per cent of Americans whose ideas and values have been shaped by the notions of the Sixties and the 50-60 per cent remainder for whom the Sixties are both irritant and blind alley. Each side can include those born before and after the Sixties, plus the religious and non-believers, the educated and uneducated. A Sixties mentality simply views the world through a Greening of America prism. It pops up quite arbitrarily, as it has this month in Denver, where citizens managed to get a proposition on the forthcoming municipal ballot requiring city officials to reduce tension and promote "peacefulness" through sitar music in buildings and meditation classes in parks.

The Kyoto Accords, which Bush would not ratify, are a mantra for the Sixties crowd. Caring about the environment and being anti-Kyoto are not mutually exclusive, except to those who have not read the accords or who suffer from a chronic case of Western guilt. If implemented, Kyoto obliges America to take measures that are by no means scientifically proven, for a purpose that is by no means scientifically proven, at great expense on behalf of the developing world, which is exempted from the measures - and whose corrupt regimes would get huge financial pay-offs. In effect, it is an effort to punish the West for being wealthy and to equalize the balance between developed countries and the developing world by placing an economic burden on the former.

But rational arguments have little role in these debates. Meanwhile, Bush's approval rating, at 51 per cent, heads all other contenders, including Hillary Clinton. Elections expert and JWR columnist Michael Barone gives him an 80 per cent chance of re-election - whoever the Democrats select as their candidate. What makes the President so hated will just have to remain pure speculation. Or, as the man himself said: "There is a lot of speculation and I guess there is going to continue to be a lot of speculation until the speculation ends."

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JWR contributor Barbara Amiel is a columnist with London's Daily Telegraph, where this column originated. Comment by clicking here.

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09/09/03: The UN in Iraq? That's the last thing that America needs
04/15/03: It's time for Russia to choose our side in the Great Game
04/01/02: Turkey should be wary of its Franco-German friends
03/18/02: Blair's dilemma: This time he cannot be all things to all men
02/18/02: Letter from London: What you don't see is what you get
02/05/02: The UN is fast becoming a threat to world peace
10/29/02: When dealing with the devil, words like "dialogue" and "agreement" are comic
09/10/02: Never mind the dossier, just leaf through 'Iraq for Dummies'
08/27/02: How Kissinger the hawk was twisted into a fake dove: Lessons in liberal journalistic integrity
05/15/02: Why protecting the peace will make a mockery of justice
05/01/02: Why has it taken Le Pen to ask the awkward questions?
04/17/02: Truth about Israeli casualties is being ignored in this war
02/18/02: America's war on terrorism is a fight for all democracies: What the European elite are clueless about
01/29/02: Pity the al-Qa'eda detainees? Why is liberal 'torture' kosher?
12/18/01: What those in the London salons don't -- or won't -- see
12/04/01: We are not risking world war so women can show their ankles
11/20/01:"Anti-terrorism" has become the Western world's equivalent of the Arabian Nights' "open sesame"
11/06/01: We must rediscover a war mentality that persists through vicissitudes
10/31/01: The West is fighting to rescue Islam, not destroy it

© 2001, Barbara Amiel