by Victor Davis Hanson
This series written for Private Papers will appear in four parts.
The new candor about killing George Bush
The American Left has become increasingly hysterical since September 11th. The symptoms of a new, disturbing extremism are manifest in a variety of forums that transcend legitimate political opposition to the war or grassroots politicking to vote out an incumbent party. Last year the comedian Rick Hall played to full houses abroad, performing his newest composition, “Let’s Get Together And Kill George Bush.” As the Republicans assembled for their August national convention in New York, a pacifist group known as “United For Peace and Justice,” nevertheless announced its sponsorship of a rather violent-sounding, off-Broadway “guerilla comedy” entitled, “I’m Gonna Kill the President.”
The 2002 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Nicholson Baker, just published Checkpoint. It is an extended dialogue about killing (in a variety of strange ways) George Bush. Jay, the protagonist of the novel, characterizes the potential targeted President as a “drunken oilman.” Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld are portrayed as “bog creatures” with “grubs scurrying out of their noses.” Such venom filters down. Sue Niederer, the mother of a soldier recently killed in Iraq, recently scoffed in an interview: “I think if I had him in front of me I would shoot him in the groined area. Let him suffer. And just continue shooting him there.”
Currently in Britain there is released a made-for-television movie of the 9-11 mass murdering—but told from the point of view of one of the 19 suicide-murderers, one Ziad Jarrah who took the controls of Flight 93 and crashed the plane and its occupants into a Pennsylvania field, when the brave passengers aborted his effort to incinerate either the U.S. Capitol building or the White House. The show’s producers—British television’s Channel 4—assure that their “whole ambition was to find out what makes these people tick, rather than to be judgmental.” And being non-judgmental is apparently assured when you hire an ex-terrorist, the IRA convicted murderer (later freed on appeal) Ronan Bennett as the drama’s chief writer.
There are always extremists, Left and Right, here and abroad. Yet, what is now different is that the public and unabashed fantasy of liquidating a sitting President, whether in comical or allegorical fashion, does not earn much censure from the mainstream Left. Instead, it seems to understand why some would wish George Bush dead. To the new critics of American conservatism, such public detestation is not an outrage, but seen as valuable and legitimate discourses of dissent against the “dominant paradigm.” Alfred Knopf, for example, is promoting Baker’s book as a cri de coeur—“in response to the powerless seething fury many Americans felt when President Bush decided to take the nation to war.”
Michael Moore was seen on television at the recent Democratic convention, prominently seated next to the party’s elder statesmen—like ex-President Jimmy Carter. Democratic legislators were said to have delayed their Congressional votes to have attended the Washington D.C. screening of Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11, a film whose litany of distortions and creative editing puts it into the same genre of propaganda as Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of Will.
Moore’s rhetoric is far beyond the pale, and in its vehemence firmly entrenched in the American demagogic tradition of Huey Long, Joe McCarthy, or Jerry Rubin. Americans shuddered when after September 11th Moore lamented that those who perished in the World Trade Center at Ground Zero were primarily Democrats, and thus not all that suitable targets for the sworn enemies of George Bush. Recently, Moore, the self-proclaimed populist and favorite of the “people’s party,” scoffed of Americans that, “They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet,” emphasizing that, “Our stupidity is embarrassing.”
Moore furthermore declared of the insurgents who blew up and beheaded Americans in Iraq, “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.” Again, what is different about such boilerplate extremism is the near absence of censure from the mainstream Democratic leadership whom Moore embraces. Unlike the John Birchers of the 1950s who were chastised by Republicans or the Yippies of the 1960s who were kept out of the 1968 Chicago Convention, Moore is praised and brought into the fold—witness Wesley Clark’s recent Presidential bid—precisely because of the utility and resonance of his weird pronouncements and political propaganda. Thus the Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe gushed of Fahrenheit 9-11, “I think anyone who goes to see this movie will come out en masse and vote for John Kerry. Clearly the movie makes it clear that George Bush is not fit to be president of this country.”
Yet such rhetoric emboldens rather than embarrasses Moore’s sponsors. If we examine the vocabulary of the stalwarts of the Democratic party—a Tom Daschle, Howard Dean, Al Gore, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, or Terry McAuliffe—then we learn that the current President or Vice President of the United States is at various times to be labeled as “a traitor,” “coward,” “deserter,” or “AWOL.” To Al Gore, Bush uses “digital brownshirts;” for Michael Moore the President is a “a drunk, a thief, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter, and a crybaby.”
Adjectives like “worst” color their speeches, as in “worst” administration or “worst” decision or “worst” example—often amplified by tacking on “in history.” Bill Moyers says the Bush presidency means “the deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America.” Sometimes a Ted Kennedy assures us that Mr. Bush has simply reopened the Abu Ghraib prison “under new management” to continue the mayhem, torture, and killing of Saddam Hussein. Janet Reno evokes the holocaust at Dachau to warn us of the new Bush Gulag—a term coined from Al Gore. And the ubiquitous Terry McAuliffe rants about the President’s “dictatorial approach;” meanwhile Julian Bond assures the nation that Bush is from the “Taliban wing” of American politics.
Both Left and Right have discovered the paperback pulp market that offers big print invective and crackpot conspiracy theory. But the anti-Bush genre is singular for at least two reasons—the sheer number of titles and authorship by mainstream Democratic journalists, television talking heads, Clintonites, and public figures. Examine a sampling of the often hysterical titles: Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George Bush (John Dean); Big Lies, (Joe Conason);The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (David Corn); Big Bush Lies: The 20 Most Telling Lies of George W. Bush (Jerry Barrett); Warrior King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush (John Bonifaz); The I Hate George Bush Reader: Why Dubya is Wrong About Absolutely Everything (Clint Willis); American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush(Kevin Phillips); Bushwhacked: Life in George Bush’s America(Molly Ivins); Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy (Robert Kennedy Jr.);Cruel and Unusual: Bush and Cheney’s New World Order (Mark Crispin Miller).*
Why does the Left hate Bush so? Some answers tomorrow when “The Perfect Storm” continues in “Part Two: Why the new hysterical hatred?”
* Cf. also Is Our Children Learning: The Case against George W. Bush (Paul Begala); The Dirty Truth: the Oil and Chemical Dependency of George W. Bush (Rick Abraham); The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (Peter Singer); The Book on Bush: How George W. Bush is (Mis)leading America (Eric Alterman and Mark Green); The Bush Hater’s Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency in the Past 100 years (Jack Huberman); Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them (Al Franken);Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney/Bush Junta (Gore Vidal); Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America (Ariana Huffington); The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Chrstopher Scheer, Robert Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry); Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk (Maureen Dowd);Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and The Stifling of Democracy (Lewis Lapham); Thieves in High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time to Take it Back (Jim Hightower).
©2004 Victor Davis Hanson