One Of Their OwnDavid Brooks wrote a column yesterday in the New York Times exploring what he saw as the two Presidential candidates conflicting styles of thinking and functioning. It was his attempt at offering a dispassionate appreciation of the two men. However, as my response to him will make clear, I concluded that he was giving Dubya, and the people who love him, much too much credit – and Senator Kerry, and the people who support him, much too little.
The URL for Brooks' original column is: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/02/opinion/02brooks.html.
Dear Mr. Brooks,
"The atmosphere of Bush's mind is more creedal or ethical. He talks about moral challenges. He talks about the sort of personal and national character we need in order to triumph over our enemies. His mind is less coldly secular than Kerry's, but also more abstracted from day-to-day reality. "
That may be, but I would argue that your distinction is a largely insignificant one. I would further argue that what is more significant is that the makeup of Dubya's mind has much in common with that of a megalomaniac, who sees wielding near absolute power over others as his divine right – and doesn't have the good sense to doubt his own intentions, or make positive use of constructive criticism. As a point of reference, his mindset, interpolated for time, place and culture, might even be compared to that of a ruler that the Founding Fathers were forced to come to grips with, a certain George III. I submit that this is a comparison entirely consistent with the subliminal messages communicated by the President's body language on Thursday night – his continual squirming, twitching and scowling, ruthlessly revealed via the C-SPAN side-by-side debate feed. One comes away with a sense that this George was truly offended that a Senator from John Adams' Massachusetts had the temerity to question his rationale for the Iraq invasion, and his approach to the war on terror. Through his body language, he was proclaiming: "Who is this liberal to be standing on the same stage, questioning me?" "Doesn't he know who I am?" "Why do I even have to be here?" I can readily understand why Dubya's handlers stipulated that there should be no cut-away shots during the debates.
Moreover, in the aftermath of 9/11, the inescapable conclusion that secular conservatives need to come to grips with is that George W. Bush's mental and emotional world isn't that different from that of another contemporary religious megalomaniac, Osama Bin Laden. Both apparently attest that his imagined relationship with God guarantees the correctness of his aims, the validity of his methods, and provides an ultimate justification for spreading chaos across the planet. And if our experience over these past few tragic years has taught us anything, it should be that mere good intentions, or religious inclinations, shouldn't count for much in our post Cold War world. But, sadly, for many Americans, they still do.
You also wrote:
"Nonetheless, I suspect that the reason Bush's approval ratings hover around 50 percent, despite a year of carnage in Iraq, is because of the reason many of us in the commentariat don't like to talk about: in a faithful and moralistic nation, Bush's language has a resonance with people who know that he is not always competent, and who know that he doesn't always dominate every argument, but who can sense a shared cast of mind. "
I agree. Furthermore, I'd argue that the fact that Bush's approval rating still hovers near 50% tells us quite a bit about 21st century America. This is a country where intellectual and personal (and I'd argue, authentic spiritual) development has been so discounted that many Americans have lost the ability to think critically about their world, or themselves. Lest anyone forget, ours' is also an America in which 59% of respondents in March 2003 told pollsters that Saddam Hussein was actively involved in the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, even though no credible evidence supporting his direct involvement was ever presented in the mainstream media. And, as recently as late summer 2004, as many as 40% of respondents were still telling pollsters that they believed that Hussein was involved in 9/11. What does that tell you about these Americans' ability to think critically? And, by extension, what does it tell you about the defensibility of this strong level of support for President Bush?
In contrast, when I saw John Kerry standing on that podium on Thursday night, I saw a man who represents what America was supposed to be about. I saw a brilliant, flexible intellect coupled to a heroic heart willing to do what was necessary when his country required it – whether that involved volunteering to serve in Vietnam or raising taxes on his own economic class when circumstances warrant it. I saw his innate goodness, his graciousness, and his superior character shine through, and positively illuminate the stage. And so did a lot of Americans.
Mr. Brooks, if you want to help usher in a dark age of American history, then keep defending the indefensible. Keep spinning for President Bush. This spiritual progressive is proud to be standing alongside former Republicans like John Eisenhower, and directly behind John Kerry – the kind of patriot, statesman and intellectual that I believe the Founding Fathers would have been proud to call one of their own.
Matthew Carnicelli © 2004. All rights reserved.
Originally published October 3, 2004.