An almost forgotten man as his massively unpopular presidency winds down, George W. Bush has passed Richard Nixon, if that can be imagined, as the most-hated politician in this nation's history, especially by an ever-more-strident Left. Yet Bush, whatever his flaws as Chief Executive, is certainly a man of greater character and honor than Nixon, not to mention many of his fiercest critics. Besides the obvious answer of the conflict in Iraq, why has he faced such continuous scorn and ridicule? The answer may lie more with us than with him.
Less than probably any president, with the possible exception of Gerald Ford, has Bush fired back at his all-too-vocal critics over the years. Yet, arguably, he's had a better case for returning the salvos than many of his predecessors. When the criticism gets personal, as it often has in the Bush years, he's had every justification for fighting back-likely, only his sense of Christian charity has prevented it. Ironically, he may have garnered more respect, at least in the short run, by delivering some below-the-belt blows of his own, especially in a hyper-critical political environment where firing back is the norm.
The popular culture in this country has degenerated to the point where we, as a society, have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to issues of right and wrong. Given this, it should be clear to see why a president who's trying to do what he believes best for the country, regardless of public opinion polls, is vilified for doing so. People by and large are too concerned about their busy lives here to understand or care much about why we are in Iraq-and most of the time they're hearing things that make them wish we weren't. Alternatively, Obama can walk away from the massive train wreck named Jeremiah Wright virtually unscathed. The difference? In Obama's case, the media do not make Wright into a 24/7, days on end feeding frenzy and thus allow Obama to conveniently detach himself from the uber-controversial former pastor. In this day and age, it's more wrong to point out a wrong than the wrong itself, especially when the wrong involves a liberal Democrat.
In a culture that is increasingly willing to trade freedom for security, President Bush has often pandered to that with his support of the monstrous Medicare prescription drug program and his unwillingness to cut wasteful programs in general. We can see, however, where that has gotten him popularity-wise. It was a vastly different scenario in the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson was chased out of the White House over the Vietnam War; far more of the population, with the military draft in place, was affected by that war than the one in Iraq. Unfortunately, for all of the caterwauling about Big Government over the years, the public by and large seem to want it when they perceive or receive "benefit" from it.
It's one thing to offer fair criticism of the president's policies, as we certainly have from time to time on these pages. It's quite another to attempt equating Bush to Adolf Hitler as some critics have done; to want to impeach him over largely imaginary infractions as they would have if they could have. This infantile, ad hominem type of attack comes from people who are steeped in a culture of empty cynicism and ultimate lack of respect for humanity in general. In other words, a culture that is bereft of what it means to have faith in anything, much less in a God that actually loves them.
President Bush has often been criticized for not being an articulate, uplifting speaker. Granted, he's no Ronald Reagan, but neither was Bill Clinton a truly gifted orator and he was excused for that. What seems to be more important to many of today's voters are style points, as if the race for the presidency was akin to an American Idol competition. Looking good on TV is one thing; but when the inexperienced, full-of-baggage Obama actually convinces legions of voters that by looking good and sounding good, he is in fact a good candidate, that's downright scary.
One of the more valuable things that President Bush could do on his way out is to lament the shallowness of current political discourse in this country. A pop culture that is so unsentimental and disinterested in much beyond self-gratification does nothing to promote such a conversation. The culture, especially youths, by and large have little if any respect for the older generations and even less for government institutions. Nevertheless, even a lame-duck president still has something of a bully pulpit to convey a countercultural message if he so chooses. Especially when he has learned a lot of hard lessons about being unpopular and misunderstood throughout most of his presidency.