Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Confessions of a Former Hater

I had a dream a few weeks ago that I ran into George W. Bush in an ACE Hardware store. He was wearing the “ranchin’ boots” I saw on the Hannity interview with some jeans and a button-down shirt. The former president tapped me on the shoulder and asked my opinion on bolt cutters. The weirdest thing about the dream – despite the idea that someone might, upon looking at me, figure I would know something about bolt cutters – is that it wasn’t weird. He is exactly the kind of guy you might run into in a hardware store in Dallas.

In the dream, Dubya asked me, looking directly into my eyes with that squinty grin of his as we knelt in the aisle, “How come you hated me so much?” In the dream I felt terribly embarrassed, and also like I might burst into tears for some reason. George seemed to sense my consternation, and patted me on the back, as if to say, “Never mind.” Then we went back to looking at bolt cutters.

I woke up feeling that dream sensation of embarrassment and sorrow, but I shook it off, the way we all shake off the emotions we feel in dreams, so that the stunned terror of the car wreck or the jubilant elation of the water balloon fight with the Goonies is gone by the time the coffee starts to drip.

I shook the feeling, but I didn’t shake the question: “How come you hated me so much?”

It seems like there are a growing number of people like me: Americans who were quite young when Bush was elected and are now, in the wake of the current administration, a few years of perspective, and a lot of soul-searching, finding our opinion of the man has changed. It almost feels right that we would gather in church basements, sit on folding chairs with Styrofoam cups of coffee, and share stories of recovery from our deep personal hatred of George W. Bush. I'll start.

“Hi, my name is Kristen, and I hated George W. Bush.”

I don’t use that word lightly. There is a short list of living people I can honestly say I have at one time hated, and Dubya was near the top, right under Courtney Love, who remains on the list. (That is a subject for another essay.)

Actually, do I really need an essay? I think this picture should just about do it.

I was editor-in-chief of one issue of a biannual student magazine in college; this would have been around 2002. The topic I chose was “War.” The issue, under my direction, excoriated Bush, personally and presidentially, for page after page after page. One feature I remember vividly was my take on a letter from President Bush to the family of a slain soldier. It was a “Bush is stupid” gag piggybacked on a “Bush doesn’t care about soldiers” gag, featuring poor spelling and a postscript noting that a 30% off coupon to Domino’s Pizza was included with the letter.

If you had asked me, at age 23, what I thought about Bush, I would have found myself unable to answer you without swearing.

Over the course of a few years, I stopped believing he was blood-related to Lucifer, and started, like many Americans around 2004ish, believing he was a stupid, misguided puppet controlled by evil men who met in shadowy Pentagon rooms and plotted… stuff. Lots of conspiratorial stuff. Probably concerning oil. Oooh, oil! Yes, it was all about oil!

Later, around 2006 or 2007, I stopped thinking he was necessarily a puppet and started thinking he was probably a really convicted guy who thought he was doing the right thing but was too simple to understand all the super complex issues involved in the conflict… which I, apparently, understood? I guess? He had CIA briefings, I had The Nation online. But somehow I “got it” and George W. Bush didn’t.

By 2008, I was even able to find Dubya likeable. I came to enjoy his folksy Texanisms and even feel a little, well, proud, that he was a fellow Texan, adopted or otherwise. I couldn’t have explained why. I even began to quip that I wouldn’t mind floating the Guadalupe with him (preferably sharing a raft with other likeable Texans, especially Ron White and Matthew McConaughey) but I still thought he was a bad president.

Ron White 2012!

It’s possible my suddenly warm-hearted, if condescending, feelings toward Bush were a reaction to Obama’s “big bad Bush” rhetoric during the 2008 presidential campaign.

It wasn’t until late 2009 that I began to reconsider my estimation of ol’ Dubya, not just as a person, but as a president. By this time I had become, quite against my will, a conservative. Then, in late 2010, when his book Decision Points was published, I read a few pages of my dad’s copy and was particularly affected by an account of his mother’s miscarriage, an episode that formed Bush’s early understanding of the sanctity of unborn human life. (He has the most strongly pro-life record of any U.S. president.)

Sitting here today, in the year of Our Lord 2011, I can say not only that I like Bush, but that I think he was a good president. I don’t worship him, and I don’t think he was perfect. But I do think history will treat him far more kindly than did his own country during his administration. The change of heart has already begun. 

My change of heart began when I reconnected with my Catholic faith and immediately regretted my decision to vote for Barack Obama. I have mentioned before in this blog that as a liberal and even moderate I was terribly uninformed about politics. Perhaps, you are thinking, I am still uninformed, and maybe so. But in those days I was really uninformed.

When I was in my late teens and early 20s I got most of my “information” and ideals from online magazines like The Progressive and Counterpunch, shows like “The Daily Show,” organizations like MoveOn.org and CrimethInc., and books like Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men and Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I did not read mainstream newspapers, which I felt had a conservative bias. (It is important to note that I did not think the newspapers had a conservative bias because I read them and found one, but because all the progressive magazines told me they did.)

Years later, after my abrupt conversion from pro-choice to pro-life and my gradual conversion from agnostic to Catholic, I voted for Barack Obama, having somehow convinced myself it was a pro-life thing to do. He’ll fix our country so fewer women will want to have abortions! Such was my rationalization. Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell circulated a letter to all the Catholics in his diocese urging us to vote pro-life. His argument was, of course, in perfect keeping with Catholic teaching, and basically said that our consciences can guide us one way or the other on almost every issue, from immigration to war to taxes to spending, but there is only one stance we as Christians are allowed to take on abortion, the most important moral, ethical human rights issue of our time. It followed, therefore, that we must vote pro-life.

I agreed with all of that but I still voted Democrat. I regret it to this day.

Mainly because, according to UglyDemocrats.com, Republicans are prettier.

I had not been practicing my faith for about a year when I cast my vote for Obama. The Bishop’s letter actually pissed me off. How dare they tell me I have to vote for McCain! A few months later, I returned to church and inevitably to a deeper understanding of the administration I had helped elect. By late 2009 I was not only not impressed with Obama; I was deeply troubled by him. In trying to understand what troubled me I began to compare and contrast him with President Bush and discover, to my chagrin, that I had been unfair to the man, that we as a nation had been unfair.

Victor Davis Hanson can defend Bush far more eloquently than I can, and I suggest you read what he has to say. As one of the world’s preeminent military historians, an expert on Western warfare and a best-selling author, the Stanford professor’s endorsement of the Bush administration, particularly Bush himself and much-maligned former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaks volumes.

When I look back at Bush now, I see, first of all, a moderate, not the hard-right ideologue the left made him out to be. Domestic policies such as No Child Left Behind found him not only reaching across the aisle but spending money more like a Democrat than 2011 Kristen would like. But 2003 Kristen would have condemned him anyway, using words like “unilateralism,” which sounded evil to me because The New York Times said it was evil. If you had pointed out that Congress voted overwhelmingly for war with Iraq, I would have said it was because of lies about WMDs. And if you had countered that there were actually 23 separate items in the Iraq War Resolution on which Congress voted, I would have said it was all a front, a lie told to America so the evil right wing conspiracy could blow up innocent brown people and take their oil.

The widespread hatred for George W. Bush went far beyond disagreement with his policies or even the war. It was a personal loathing. A major publisher released a book about Bush being assassinated. Bookstores around the country had whole designated sections of anti-Bush books and gifts; I saw one myself in a major chain bookstore in Texas. Celebrities and journalists called him names on TV; one even lamented that there was no John Wilkes Booth or John Hinckley, Jr., when we needed him.

The animosity was instigated, as public opinion so often is, by the leftist elite in Hollywood and New York and the intellectual elite in the news media and on college campuses around the country and abroad. They could not stand Bush’s perceived simplicity. They whined that he was not inquisitive. They condemned him as anti-intellectual, unwilling to see other cultures as just as valid as America’s, uninterested in why the terrorists hated us, narrow-minded about other values systems, and too stubbornly convinced that America was right and the rest were wrong. They hated his down-home accent, his brush-clearing vacations to Crawford, his traditional marriage to a classy woman, and, maybe most of all, his born-again Evangelical Christianity.

These are all the things I hated about Bush. Today, these are the things I like about him.

People hate Sarah Palin for very similar reasons – folksy populist rhetoric, back-of-beyond gun-toting frontier sensibility, a traditional family life, flag-waving patriotism, a straight-forward belief in good vs. evil, and an attitude toward national defense that can best be defined as “Don’t retreat. Reload.” These things at which the elites scoff and roll their eyes are the character traits that make a president who will defend American values at home and abroad… which is exactly what the left doesn’t want.

You betcha.

 Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for willful anti-intellectualism, and neither is Hanson when defending Bush, who upon meeting the president found him to be an avid reader and quite “learned… the opposite of the popular caricature.” I’m just saying that if I have to choose between someone who can use big words to speak at length about various themes in the work of Virgil and someone who can use small words to explain and defend the Constitution, I’m going with the latter. How many pompous academic blowhards have you met who know everything, but know nothing? (See Obama.)

I don’t particularly care to have a president “smart” enough to understand “why the terrorists hate us” and see things from their different, though “equally valid,” point of view. I would prefer a president with the common sense and the moral fiber to know that a terrorist is a terrorist and the proper response to terrorism is not deep bowing, apologies, or UN resolutions, but bombs. And, later, when the time is right, more bombs.

The problem is the moral relativism of the hyper-educated progressives, which they picked up in their universities. For example, a noted professor of bioethics – I am not making this up – at Princeton University has taken the brave though rare ethical position in favor of infanticide up to the age of about one year. What a heroic intellect! What an ethicist

This moral relativism, which the left clings to harder than us mean-spirited right-wing bigots cling to our religion and our guns, is best summed up in the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth, just differences of perspective. There’s no such thing as good and evil, just different values systems, all of which are equally valid. And so forth. Pardon me for my abject simplicity, but I want a president who not only believes in good and evil, but recognizes evil and is willing to fight it. 

I like my American leadership like I like my American literature: muscular, simple, timeless, decisive – like Hemingway. Not sophomoric, banal, silly, amoral, and ambivalent, like Anne Rice. Anne Rice can be a fun read, and she’s oh so very provocative and stylish! But that’s not what I want in a president.

Dubya is not exactly Hemingway – he’s too centrist and, in some ways, too soft – but he goes in the right direction. Obama is Anne Rice up and down: in love with his own words, incapable of discipline, and stuck, like all leftists, in the mindset of a rebellious adolescent who doesn’t understand that all his bold new ideas for creating equality and peace and understanding are not new at all, but have been tried and found not only wanting but dangerous.

I understand that way of thinking because it was once my way. I know how dangerous it is for the soul of our country because I know what it did to my soul.

Today, when I see George W. Bush on television, I smile. I remember what it was like to have a real man for a president, arrogance and shit-eating grin and all, and I imagine I would really like to run into him at a hardware store, though I doubt he would ask my opinion on bolt cutters. If I were lucky enough to have such a confrontation, or if my prayers were answered and I actually found myself tubin’ the Guadalupe in a raft with Dubya, Ron White, and McConaughey, I would have a pretty good answer for G-Dub if he asked me that simple, somehow heartbreaking question: “How come you hated me so much?”

“I was stupid, Mr. President,” I would say. “I was stupid…”

“…Pass the O’Doul’s.”


  1. Damn, Kristen! You are a hell of a writer! I can't agree with everything here ("If Bush was so against evil, why did we never attack Saudi Arabia" begins my list of particulars against Bush), but I mostly agree with this essay. As someone who campaigned for Bush in 2000 and 2004, I have many regrets. Yet among those regrets are NOT that we didn't have President Gore or President Kerry. I only wish we'd had a President like Fred Thompson, but that's splitting hairs. I also wish Texas had Governor Kinky, but politics ain't about wishes, but the possible.

    Keep on writing! You've an avid fan in me!

  2. Thanks, Robert. :-) As always I have nothin' but love for your feedback and friendship.

    As for Saudi Arabia, I too lament that we haven't clobbered them. I imagine it is for the same reason we don't clobber China, who also deserves an ass kicking: money. Truly the root of all evil, I guess.