Letters From the Editor
Memo From Warner
As a liberal, I never thought I’d say this, but here it is: I feel sorry for President Bush.
Politicians lie. We know this. It’s a given, a part of the bargain required to achieve elective office. Even John McCain, that famously straight shooter, and the alleged exception to the rule, must be checking for nose growth as he stumps for the man who cut him off at the knees in South Carolina in 2000. However, there are times when politicians inadvertently let a bit of truth slip, when they tell us what they really thinklike when Trent Lott mused on the hypothetical glory of an unreconstructed South, or Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo that Iraq was likely to be a long, hard slog.
In a recent interview with Matt Lauer, President Bush had his own brush with truth-telling. When asked about winning the war on terror, he said this: I don’t think you can win it I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.
My first thought was, No duh, Mr. President. But soon I was gladdened. Finally, I thought, this guy is beginning to get it. I didn’t know if he’d actually thought of it himself or was parroting something he’d heard from someone in an office down the hall, but I didn’t care, this was progress. President Bring It On, Saddam Equals al Qaeda, Weapons of Mass Destruction, er, Weapons Programs, I mean Program-Related Activities was actually demonstrating an ability to think about a complex problem in a nuanced way.
He sounded practically like a liberal.
At this week’s Republican convention, a consistent theme has been the president’s bravery. Until this point in his adult life, Bush’s bravest act (and second stupidest, behind you know) was trading Sammy Sosa. But with this statement, this admission that the war on terror might be unwinnablehere was an actual act of bravery, at least for a politician.
I was, quite frankly, proud of him.
Naturally, he got hammered for it. The Kerry campaign, unable to resist dining on this succulent slice of schadenfreude, immediately labeled President Bush a flip-flopper on the war on terror. Vice presidential candidate Edwards twisted the knife even deeper when he remarked, This is no time to declare defeat.
Predictably and out of necessity, President Bush hopped onto his campaign bus and fired it into full-speed backpedal, proclaiming at an American Legion convention in Nashville, We meet today in a time of war for our country, a war we did not start yet one that we will win.
But but and it was over as quickly as it had begun.
In that brief flash, I’d experienced something I thought I’d lost a long time ago, and that thing was, quite honestly, hope:
Hope that political discourse could be elevated out of the sewer and at least into the gutter
Hope that in this incredibly important election, we might actually have a substantive debate on the issues
Hope that we might be able to talk about something other than Swift Boats, whether or not Dick Cheney is indeed the Prince of Darkness, or how homosexuals are threatening my marriage
For that all-too-brief moment, President Bush had me contemplating doing something I wouldn’t have thought possible: voting for him.
(OK, not really, but just go with me on this for a minute.)
Liberals like me have hammered Bush for his lies, lies about the weapons of mass destruction, about the mess in Iraq, the effect of his tax cuts, environmental policy, his golf handicap and we’re tired of them. We’ve said we want a president who will level with us and govern from a position of honesty and hope, rather than deceit and fear, but here he was in his remarks to Matt Lauer sounding like one of us, yet still we gleefully pounced because he looked weak.
I am a liberal, and as a liberal I believe certain things. I believe in a plural society. I believe in individual freedom and liberties. I believe in tolerance. In my thirst to evict President Bush from the White House, I now realize that I have abandoned these principles. I now look for political advantage, ways to exploit weakness in others, arguments to dismiss an alternative point of view because mine is right and theirs is wrong. The difference between us and them is that we weren’t supposed to tolerate the sort of intellectual dishonesty that routinely trips from the Bush administration’s lips.
We could have taken the opportunity provided by the president’s initial remarks to take up the debate, to say, We agree, Mr. President, the problem of terrorism is multi-faceted and complex and while we may never eradicate terrorism, through a combination of our military strength, our economic might, and our compassion, we will make ‘those who use terror as a tool less acceptable in parts of the world.’ Here’s our plan, what’s yours?
But instead, we punched back. And frankly, if we really want President Bush out of office, we probably needed to take the shot, but as we tally the damage of the Bush presidency, we might need to add the abandonment of our principles to the list.
I’d like to say that I feel sorry for us, but it’s our own fault.