Thursday, January 29, 2004

Should I Like Bush?

Lately I've been wondering if, against my better judgment, President Bush isn't in fact somewhat close to the sort of person I'd like to be president--or, more accurately, if his policies aren't in fact pretty much the sort of policies I'd like a president to endorse. I mean, think about it--I'm an upper-left-hand quadrant communitarian, a social conservative and a social democrat, a believer in morals and equality. So what does that mean, practically speaking? Well, it means I believe in...a lot of things Bush believes in, or at least says he believes in. Faith-based initiatives? Check. Promoting democracy abroad? Check. Support for the institution of marriage? Check. Funding for the arts and education? Check. And so on. I'm open-minded about his immigration proposal. Like George Packer (scroll down), another chastened liberal hawk, as much as I am embarrassed and dismayed at how the Iraq war and occupation was executed, "I can't wish the fall of Saddam's regime undone." And so, yeah, the man's got problems, real problems...but shouldn't I, of all people, be basically sympathetic to the guy? I mean, the libertarians of the blogosphere are always describing this particular mix of positions as "authoritarian"--and now we have a president who, as Andrew Sullivan recently put it, wants to be our "Nanny in Chief," combining "Big Government liberalism with religious-right moralism." Shouldn't that be what I'm all about?

Well, anyway, here is David Bernstein's libertarian take on why an economic and/or foreign policy and/or civic liberal like myself ought to actually like Bush. (He posted a follow-up here.) Matthew Ygelsias was foolish enough to think that David had a point; his readers have subsequently let him have it for deviating if only hypothetically and temporarily from the Bush-hating faith. As for me--well, I could challenge the democratic or communitarian substance of most of Bush's policies pretty easily. The way he proposes to pay for all the (in some ways) good things he's doing is all wrong (even assuming he does intend on paying for them, which is doubtful); the way he articulates his (in some ways) reasonable social and domestic policies is short-sighted and divisive; the way he's enacting his (in some ways) admirable foreign policy goals lacks humility, cultural awareness, historical sensibility or basic competence and seriousness. And besides, even allowing for all that, the man is a complete failure when it comes to labor (temporary and politically-driven trade tariffs notwithstanding), and not much better when it comes to the environment (yes, a lot of accusations made against him are overwrought, but still: it's clear that in Bush's heaven, Jesus drives an SUV.) In the end, the "If The Bush Administration Was Your Roommate" ad, out of all the entries at "Bush in 30 Seconds", expresses my current feelings about the man best. Maybe his policy sensibilities aren't all wrong, maybe his political instincts are pretty good, maybe his heart is mostly in the right place. But that doesn't stop him from being foolish, careless, and (as I wrote a while ago) exploitive of people and citizens who expected more from him, and in any case deserve better.
Note: When I write "support for the institution of marriage" above, I'm talking about Bush's embrace of pro-marriage policies in connection with fighting poverty and teenage pregnancies, not his position on "traditional marriage" vis-a-vis other versions of the institution. My opinion on same-sex marriage is, to be frank, in flux: I change my mind a lot about it. (Those interested in some long, religious, specifically (though admittedly peculiar) Mormon reflections on the topic can check out what I think here.)