MORE ON BUSH
Microsoft began 1999 at about $73 a share. As of June 30th, it was just over $90. So if you bought $1,000 dollars worth of Microsoft stock four months ago, you’d get a return on your investment of around 23% — not bad at all. But that’s bupkus compared to what some people think they’ll get for investing in George W. Bush. Over the same period GW collected $36,000,000, which is slightly more money than God leaves for a tip when he eats out. We don’t know yet what the breakdown between PACs and individual contributors is, but let’s just assume that it’s 50%-50%, which is unlikely, but it works for me. If half of that $36,000,000 was raised from individual donors, that would mean the Bush crowd collected at least 13,000 individual checks for up to $1,000. For this reason alone, I would like to announce that I have changed my name to George W. Bush and I am setting up a P.O. box in Austin, Texas.
We at the G-File (soon to be renamed the GW File) have been criticized for taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the man from Austin. The Bush pod people get infuriated when it is suggested that their faith should be anything less than Abraham’s when he was about to shiv Isaac. The Bush-haters think I’m being too squishy when I say that it remains unclear whether Bush is the Antichrist. But the reality is that all things are still possible with the Dub.
But as it becomes increasingly clear that his victory is not merely likely, but inevitable without some earth-shattering shake-up, one becomes ever more tempted to pull one’s punches. But as I have taken to drinking earlier in the day — or much, much later in the night, depending on how you define things — I will try one more time to briefly explain my reservations. They are twofold.
During the Lewinsky scandal, most conservatives and many Republicans made the case that high poll numbers do not mean anything more than, well, high poll numbers. There was this fairly frightening tendency on the part of the press, liberal activists, and the ritzy New Yorker crowd to say that popularity was somehow a defense against any charge. This argument took so many forms and was so prevalent that I think most people didn’t even realize they were making it.
When discussed in the abstract, the problem with this thinking is obvious to almost everybody. Popularity is usually morally neutral and is just as often bad as good. Indeed, in our popular culture bad is more popular than good. How many more movies have been made about gangsters than about Special Olympics organizers? The political corollary of this equally obvious. Hitler was very popular. Franco was popular. Mao was popular. And while polls are less solemn than ballots, the principle remains the same: In a democracy popularity may equal strength, but might doesn’t make right.
But you couldn’t tell that to Paul Begala, Lanny Davis, Geraldo Rivera, Sean Wilentz, Alan Dershowitz, and all the others on and off TV who argued that popularity in some form or another made Bill Clinton’s crimes, real or alleged, irrelevant. This was maddening for me, truly maddening.
Now George Bush’s character is nothing like Bill Clinton’s as far as we can tell. He seems an honorable and decent man with high hopes and all that. But the argument that has propelled him into the stratosphere has not been about substance. It’s been about popularity, in one form or another. The Clintonistas rallied around the president’s pants because he was the only man popular enough to protect them from the “evil” and “extreme” Republicans. Republicans are rallying around Bush’s ambiguity because they thinking flushing this administration and replacing it with cleansing Republican waters is the most important thing in the world.
It is the same argument.
Indeed, they are the same tactics, to some extent. George W. Bush is doing almost exactly what Clinton did in 1992. He is running against the “extreme” wing of his own party while at the same time seeming the reasonable alternative to the incumbent administration. Clinton could do this because he knew the party wanted to win more than it wanted to be right. Bush is doing much the same thing. Again, that doesn’t make Bush a bad guy, it makes him a smart politician. Bill Clinton’s strategy in 1992 was brilliant. And back then, even some conservatives thought that he showed promise. Today, many liberals think GW might be okay.
The other problem with Bush is this whole compassionate conservative thing. It too is a mirror image of the Clinton 1992 campaign. In 1992 Clinton needed to demonstrate that a Democrat could be tough-minded. So he threatened the “butchers of Beijing,” he executed a retarded man, he criticized Sista Souljah. Leftists were infuriated by the fact that Clinton legitimized the stereotype of liberal softness by running against it.
Well, it really ticks me off when Bush confirms this notion that conservatism is somehow cold-hearted, by running against it. When he says he’s a “different kind of conservative” because he is “compassionate,” he is maligning all the conservatives who came before him. I don’t like it. It’s great politics, but I just don’t like it.
This bit of e-patriotism is moving around the web. If it turns out to be false, please don’t hold it against me. But if it’s true, please congratulate me on my resourcefulness:
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution.
These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They gave you and me a free and independent America. The history books never told you a lot of what happened in the Revolutionary War.
We didn’t just fight the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government! Some of us take these liberties so much for granted. We shouldn’t. So, take a couple of minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots.
It’s not much to ask for the price they paid.
AND FINALLY . . .
Now today is Friday, but there aren’t that many burning issues to clear up for Corrections-and-Clarifications Friday. There are a couple of items though. I flubbed my rendition of Hitler’s rise to power in 1934. He became president in 1934, not chancellor, upon Hindenberg’s death. Hitler was already chancellor. One fellow has pointed out to me that my “endorsement” of the Pill contradicts the Catholic Church’s teaching that the Pill can be an “abortifacient.” Thankfully, in this case, I am not a Catholic. Still, this is a topic I will steer clear of today, if you guys don’t mind. Also, quite a few people wrote in saying that they are disappointed in me for asserting that the Clinton administration isn’t lying about the budget surplus. Point well taken. It may or may not add up to a trillion bucks, but the fact remains we are in some fat years and there will be a surplus.
But the real disappointment for many readers isn’t with anything specific I said, but with me generally. Quite a few of you think “something bad” happened to me in “Switzerland” — as if I might have been someplace else. They detect a lack of mirth and merriment in the column, a certain je ne sais quoi that is no longer there. One correspondent said that until I referred to an intern’s heinie he suspected the column was being ghost-written.
I must admit that a certain degree of existential Angst is going around the G-File HQ. My couch keeps asking, “But what does it mean, to be a couch, really?” The reading lamp stares out the window all day like some shiny android Cyclops, wistfully awaiting the return of his race, or maybe just someone to talk to. And the big floppy chair spends all day reading Being and Time while smoking filterless cigarettes. All I get out of him is a distracted, “whatever” whenever I try to make conversation and a sneering snort of a laugh when I throw The New Republic in his lap. Me, I’m just cranky and at half-speed all the time. It takes me 18 minutes to make 12-minute brownies.
Perhaps it’s the transition back to the daily grind. Maybe it’s the daily grind itself — the ink-stained wretch thing can get pretty tedious, especially when no one uses ink anymore. It could be the fact that Deep Space Nine was cancelled but Star Trek Voyager remains on the air. Maybe it’s because it is not against the law for Al Gore to express his “concern” over George Bush’s fundraising. Or it could be that Baywatch reruns are particularly uninspiring right now — that Australian yutz is going out with Jasmine Bleeth. Then there’s the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio might be in Godfather IV, which would be like casting Jerry Nadler in the sequel to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Of course, there’s the fact that Webb Hubbell copped a plea (see Bill Safire’s column yesterday if your day isn’t going poorly enough). This may be the first time that the journalistic establishment has acquiesced to the obvious fact that a cover-up succeeded. Then again, it could just be my body rebelling against the fact that I’ve started running. It’s not opposed to running per se, but usually there’s a Good Humor truck or a happy hour at the end of the exertion.
Anyway, my apologies for not being chipper enough for some of you. Shipments of Prozac can be sent to me care of the Washington, D.C., office of National Review.
One last request: I’m looking for new poll topics. Please send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org (address defunct). Please, think before you write, and have a great weekend.