Column: The Public Eye: Oppose Bush, But Don’t Hate George By BOB BURNETT

Tuesday August 09, 2005

At a dinner party in Wales, a British conservative asked if it was true that American activists opposed to the Bush administration hated George. Have our feelings about him grown so intense that we categorically reject everything he does? In truth, many of us cannot bear to watch Bush on television, and find it is easier to make fun of him than to consider how dreadfully effective he has been as a politician. In the remaining three and a half years of his administration, our challenge is to turn this antipathy into effective action. 

It’s worth remembering that 330 years ago, Americans had similar strong feelings about another George—the King of England, George III—also the subject of both mocking lampoons and reverent paeans. We can imagine Brits of that era asking, “Why do you colonists hate King George? He means well.” 

In 1776, few if any Americans had actually met King George III; those who opposed him did so on the basis of his autocratic policies—it wasn’t personal. In 2005, few of us have actually met President George II; once again, if we have strong feelings, it’s because of his autocratic policies.  

If one were to poll those of us opposed to the Bush administration, and ask what we most dislike about President Bush’s track record, our responses would fall into four clusters. The first concerns the war in Iraq. We believe that Bush led the United States into war on false pretenses, fabricated the case for an invasion of Iraq in order to create an effective issue for the 2002 Congressional elections. Since the president declared “Mission Accomplished” on May 2, 2003, all of the administration’s “evidence” justifying the invasion has been refuted: presence of WMDs, delivery systems, ties to Al Qaeda, etc. Moreover, the occupation has grown into a full-scale disaster and there is abundant evidence that the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq has strengthened the hand of the terrorists. We believe the administration is weakening America. 

The second cluster of responses centers on the plutocratic tendencies of this administration. During his first presidential campaign, Bush appeared at a fundraiser and quipped, “This is an impressive crowd—the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base.” Those of us in the opposition believe that the president has consistently played to his “base” and that, as a result, class differences in the United States have been accentuated, while social mobility has decreased. Under Bush, the rich are getting richer and their power has solidified. 

The third cluster regards the environment. Many of us subscribe to the Amish proverb, “We did not inherit this land from our fathers. We are borrowing it from our children.” We believe that the Bush administration has had a tragically short-term perspective; if a national problem does not work to their political advantage, they ignore it. From this perspective they have glossed over the dangers of global warming, while permitting the looting of national resources by their supporters. 

The fourth cluster of our responses centers on Bush’s ethics, particularly his claim to be a Christian. While membership in the Christian community is loosely defined—in lots of cases all one has to do is to sign a register to become a church member—many of us dispute the assertion that the president’s conduct represents mainstream Judeo-Christian morality. We note that he approved 152 executions while governor of Texas, misled the public before the invasion of Iraq, claimed to be “the environmental president” while systematically eliminating safeguards, condoned the torture of prisoners, etc. Two aspects of the president’s conduct are particularly egregious: The first is the absence of a social justice component in his administration; evidently, the President does not believe in the Biblical teaching that each of us is be our brother’s and sister’s “keeper”—his administration has shredded the social safety net and plans a disingenuous “ownership society” where individuals will be left on their own, regardless of their circumstances. The second aspect is Bush’s persistent willingness to let the ends justify the means; the president’s political conduct indicates a belief that success is the ultimate moral criterion, how you get the job done is of no concern to him—anything goes. 

When we review the woeful record of his administration, it’s understandable that progressive activists have passionate feelings about Bush. Yet, as much as we may abhor his presidency, it would be a mistake for us to hate George. Our challenge is to hold onto our strong feelings and put them to constructive use. In doing this, we should remember the founders of this country who, 330 years ago, refused to be seduced by a similar hatred of King George III; instead, they turned their antipathy to tyranny into a rousing call for democracy. We would do well to follow their example and respond to the malfeasance of the Bush administration with righteous anger, to funnel our formidable collective energy into the task of restoring democracy to America. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist. He can be reached at bobburnett@comcast.net.