Bush-bashing: international sport?
LONDON — Walking through north London recently, I noticed that the spray-painted slogan on the side of a railway bridge that once said "Don't attack Iraq" has been replaced with: "Bring down Bush."
In my local bookstore, a display of books on "American Politics" offers up Michael Moore's "Dude, Where's My Country?" alongside "Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America," by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, "The Lies of George W. Bush," by David Corn, and two titles that make fun of President Bush's incoherent speaking style. The British media, meanwhile, revel in claims that Mr. Bush was a "coward" and a "chicken" for not serving in Vietnam.
The buildup to the US presidential election may not have the same urgency here as it does in New York or Los Angeles, but the sport of "bashing the president" is proving to be a hit among Brits. As someone who opposes just about everything Bush stands for - in particular his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - I might be expected to relish this Bush-bashing. In fact, it leaves me cold.
Election-watching from this side of "the pond," I feel that the bashers have no political alternative to offer that the American electorate might vote for, fight for, or get excited about. Instead, they poke fun at the president, scaremongering and questioning his integrity. This is the politics of the schoolyard, with namecalling and snitching taking the place of a proper political debate.
Consider Mr. Moore and his imitators, who have made lucrative careers out of cartoonish critiques of Big Bad Bush. In the conclusion to "Dude, Where's My Country?" Moore declares: "There is probably no greater imperative facing the nation than the defeat of George W. Bush in the 2004 election." Ms. Ivins, coauthor of "Bushwhacked," goes so far as to define herself as a "Bush-hater."
Some of these anti-Bush books have big, bright photos of the president looking silly and lists of the idiotic statements he has made (printed in big, bold type, no doubt to help the "stupid white men" of America get the message). But in their rush to proclaim their hatred for Bush, they fail to outline their own vision for America.
Could it be that they don't have one?
Some Bush-bashers merely make fun of the president's personal traits and failings. "The Bush Dyslexicon" by Mark Crispin Miller is a compilation of the president's public-speaking slipups (of which there are indeed many). There are websites devoted to photos of the president looking like a chimpanzee. In Britain, reports have referred to Bush as a "cowboy," a "redneck," and a "vulgar Texan." Such name-calling is a sorry substitute for debate, and surely undeserving of good Americans' time or consideration, much less their votes.
Worst of all, some in the anti-Bush brigade try to scare people into voting against him. In "Bushwhacked," Ivins and Mr. Dubose tell of a New Jersey family allegedly being poisoned by an insecticide plant because the Republican-run Environmental Protection Agency refuses to do anything about it; they write of food conglomerates that allegedly knowingly spread deadly listeria, as another downside to "life in George W. Bush's America." Raising people's fears about their health is surely the lowest form of political engagement. It plays on irrational concerns rather than exploring any hopes and ambitions they might have for reshaping the world outside their front doors.
With little by way of political conviction, many Bush-haters resort to moral blackmailing, or hectoring the electorate. Bush is an idiot, they say, so you'd have to be an even bigger idiot to vote for him. Or they claim that voting Bush is bad for your health; or you might inadvertently help to poison some poor family in New Jersey.
Taken together, all this looks like an incoherent rant, a scream of rage against the Bush administration or "stupid white men," or chemical plants, or global warming, or political power in general. The aim may be to expose Bush as incompetent, stupid, and dangerous - but the anti-Bush brigades often do a better job of exposing themselves as politically lazy, cynical, and lacking in vision.
Indeed, if they aren't careful, such critics could prove to be Bush's secret weapon: The American electorate may tire of being cajoled and frightened into voting against Bush, rather than politically convinced to do so. Some might even be tempted to vote for him as a way of snubbing the critics who have patronized them. America's voters deserve better than this.
• Brendan O'Neill is assistant editor of spiked-online.com.