The Current Crisis

A Dangerous Disorder

Harold Meyerson is one of millions of Americans who simply depart reality when politics comes up.

By 5.28.03

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Washington -- Last week I unveiled for the enlightened readers of the morning Sun my finding that for many otherwise healthy Americans politics becomes a peculiar kind of mental disorder, like Tourette's syndrome or autism. Had I not been invited by a public radio station in Dallas to debate one Harold Meyerson, author of "The Most Dangerous President Ever," in the May issue of the American Prospect magazine, I would have left it at that . The next national meeting of the American Psychiatric Association could take it from there. But I had to read Mr. Meyerson's piece in its entirety, and yesterday I had to discuss his piece with him on air, as they say. The dangerous president of whom he speaks is the amiable George W. Bush. What manner of man would call this very pleasant president "dangerous," even "most dangerous"?

As it turns out, after an hour of scrutinizing Mr. Meyerson from the safety of my Washington, D. C.-area residence (we were not in the same studio, a condition I insisted upon), I came to the conclusion that Mr. Meyerson is in good health and of reasonably sound mind, so long as we kept away from the topic of politics, particularly presidential politics. Even then he was not as weird as I would have imagined after reading his bizarre outburst in the American Prospect. We talked and entertained questions from the somewhat balmy audience (it was after all public radio) for an hour; never did he punctuate his sentences with a "quack quack" or any other noticeable eruptions. Yet in his piece he wrote such things as this: "The American president…whom George W. Bush most nearly resembles is the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis." I do not think he was joking. He really thinks there is a plausible case to be made. This was his piece's final judgment.

As I say, Mr. Meyerson is not alone in his disorder. There are millions of Americans who simply depart reality when politics comes up. Mr. Meyerson is obviously not a stupid man, yet he begins his dithyrambic essay with such observations as "Reagan was our first president to proclaim government the problem." Has Mr. Meyerson never heard of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and practically every president prior to Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Professor James Q. Wilson has made the point that before FDR it was widely held, even by American presidents, that there are things government just cannot and ought not to do. After the New Deal the feeling was almost the opposite, namely that government could do anything pursuant to some noble goal.

At any rate, with metronomic regularity Mr. Meyerson beholds politics and loses his mind, at least temporarily, as he did in his very next statement about the Gipper: "Reagan was our first president…to cut taxes." Again has he not heard of John F. Kennedy or Calvin Coolidge? What happens to a fellow such as the author of "The Most Dangerous President Ever"? Reflecting on Bush II particularly unhinges him. "In the two decades since Reagan," he yawps, "the Republican Party has grown smaller." Actually the Democratic Party has grown smaller or at least less powerful. For three decades the Harris Poll has shown the Democrats' dominance in party identity slipping steadily from 21 points in the 1970s, to 11 points in the 1980s, to 7 points in the 1990s. Today the Republicans have climbed to parity with the Democrats. That statement is irrefragable.

During our discussion Mr. Meyerson reiterated a sentiment he had earlier deposited in his nonsensical piece, to wit, that President Bush is in very fragile condition. Actually he is more popular than any president has ever been at this stage in his presidency since the beginning of presidential polling. According to the Quinippiac poll, if the presidential race were run today Bush II would take New York even if his opponent were Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. What happens to a mind such as Mr. Meyerson's when exposed to politics? Moreover why is George W. Bush such a threat to its equanimity?

I cannot answer that question now, but I will aver another recent observation of mine. For years liberals have been getting politics wrong. It is almost as though they want to get things wrong. How else can we explain their huge moral superiority? It is their path to otherworldliness.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.