Saying something nice about George Bush….

I was not overly impressed with Al Gore as a candidate in the 2000 election, but I was very opposed to George Bush for a multitude of reasons, and could never have voted for him. He seemed….false to me, very much the creation of….someone that we soon enough came to know as Karl Rove.

The more I saw of George Bush in the course of the campaign, the less I liked him. To me, he was not a man to be trusted.

And yet I remember that picture of him on the front page of the New York Times the day after he was declared the winner. He was on the phone, smiling, his little finger hooked around a curling telephone cable. It was a modest-enough smile, not the triumphal or contentious expressions that we would see soon enough. I sensed that he felt chastened by the drawn-out election process; that he felt he was lucky to have won. It was best picture of George Bush the person, that I had seen –or indeed would see.

But –no doubt about it– his smile was the smile of victory. And though I could not have been more chagrined by that victory (including the Nader perfidy), I said to myself as I took-in that photograph: “OK. That’s our system. He’s the winner. He’s the President now. Wipe the slate clean; give him a chance; get rid of all those feelings of chagrin….”

I would give Bush a chance. And I would rid myself of those feelings of chagrin. This was a new chapter in all our lives; to continue to “fight the last war” doesn’t do anyone any good.

I wasn’t feeling that good about Bush, but it was probably the best that I have felt about him.

Fast forward to the present. I have written many strong words against Mr. Bush, but none more so than about his conduct –duplicitous, inept, arrogant– of the war in Iraq. It is fair to say that I have done perhaps more than my share of seething against him.

From time to time I have questioned myself: do I have anything “nice” to say about George Bush. Shouldn’t someone who aspires to being –let’s say, if you will permit me– halfway civilized, mature; someone who tries to live an “examined” life; someone who tries to do his version of the right thing –shouldn’t someone who aspires to all these things be able to “say something nice”?

I heard someone on the BBC World Service recently –someone who probably was not a fan of George Bush– nonetheless pay him what sounded like a genuine compliment for all the good he was doing for Africa, and not just in the area of AIDS.
As I listened, a good half-dozen qualifications came to my mind –qualifications AND DIS-qualifications: suspect motives; the attachment of conditions; footdragging, and so on.

There is no doubt that these qualifications/disqualifications apply.

But there is equally no doubt that a full stomach, or a cured malaria, or a saved life does not question the motives of the helping hand.
At least not at the time.
Later on, when the systemic changes that will ensure full stomachs and vanquished diseases –and the end to the terrible violence– are being made, will be time enough for the purification of motives.

Now that I have explained all that to myself, I am confident that I could come up with some other examples of niceness or rightness.
But I am afraid that, to my mind, the war in Iraq is so huge and so wrong, and the cost in lives and resource so terrible, that it would surely eclipse them all.

In a way it all reminds me of that earlier constant gripe of Bush and Rumsfeld “Why doesn’t the media write the good news”.

As long as you have to walk with a stone in your shoe, you are unlikely to praise the view or say nice things about the weather.

[Note: This discussion takes on more relevance because of my next posting, in which I write even more strongly about how we need to develop a sense of outrage vis-a-vis Mr. Bush’s behavior. The posting is a reprint of a comment I made on Gail Collins March 15th column in the NYT.]

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