Idly, I pick up a copy of the New Republic: “The case against Bush, Part 2” it advertises. Now there’s a compelling read! How many parts will there be, I wonder? This one will run and run. Yet isn’t it normally the case that when you see “the case against” something or someone it’s because someone else is making the case for something or someone? As one who attends pretty closely to the media chatter, I don’t feel as if I’ve ever heard anyone making the case for Bush. Certainly those making the case against aren’t going to give you any hint of what it is. I myself didn’t get any further with Part 1 than the summary of Franklin Foer’s argument a week or two earlier. Here it is:
Conservatives have long distrusted experts. But, inside the Bush administration, that distrust has grown into a war against scientists, economists, intelligence analysts — and the very idea of objective truth. The case against George W. Bush, the first in an occasional series.
“The very idea of objective truth”? Gee, Franklin, are you sure? Because that sounds pretty serious. And there was me thinking it was those left-wing moral relativists who were the ones mounting an assault on the v.i.o.o.t.
At any rate, it must be pretty easy to make “the case against Bush” if he’s mounting an assault on the very idea of objective truth. We’re more or less all in favor of that — objective truth, I mean – aren’t we? It’s not like you’re arguing against a guy who actually has a case to make for anything then, is it? Instead, you might as well be making the case against Satan or Hitler or Dick Cheney. Who’s going to be arguing with you? Lyndon LaRouche may not be ahead of the curve in many respects, but he was in spotting this quick and easy method of making his polemical task easy on himself. His ferocious Malleus Maleficarum directed at Mr. Cheney, “Children of Satan,” was itself up to Part 2 (“The Beast Men”) the last time I checked.
Actually, this kind of arguing makes not just the work of writing but also the work of reading a lot easier. Take Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times. A few months ago I noticed that I didn’t actually have to read it anymore. Now I just look at the little blurb that appears under Krugman’s name on the Times“President Bush and his inner circle seem more divorced from reality than ever.”
“Iraq isn’t Vietnam, but by some parallels, it looks worse.”
“The occupation never recovered from the early blunders the administration made in handling the situation in Iraq.”
“In the Supreme Court today, Dick Cheney is defending a doctrine that makes America a sort of elected dictatorship.”
“When an administration operates without accountability, a moral catastrophe is inevitable.”
“It seems increasingly likely that the nation will end up disowning President Bush and his debts.”
“The president’s supporters have no right to complain about the public’s failure to appreciate his economic leadership.”
“Why did the press credit President Bush with virtues that reporters knew he didn’t possess?”
“The White House’s agenda is not at all compassionate. Call it Robin Hood in reverse.”
“John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history. Case in point: his role in the fight against terror.”
“John Ashcroft seems to be neglecting real terrorist threats to the public because of his ideological biases.”
“Will the Bush campaign’s optimism about job growth ever give way to facing the facts?”
“Nothing in President Bush’s record would make the terrorists unhappy at the prospect of four more years.”
A trifle monotonous, I grant you, but for ease of consumption by Professor Krugman’s vast readership you’ve got to admit that these little gems are hard to beat. You just cast your eye over them, remark to yourself, “Yep, Bush and everyone connected to him are still the same evil bastards that they were on Tuesday” and pass on to Maureen Dowd or Bob Herbert, who are almost equally predictable.
It’s all very well to notice that Michael Moore or Robert Kane Pappas, whose Orwell Rolls in His Grave takes up where Moore leaves off, are operating in a kind of dream world where Bush is Hitler or Stalin or Big Brother and they are Winston Smith, bravely standing up to a sinister totalitarianism that, somehow, nobody else has noticed. But even a buffoon like Moore is only following the lead of ostensibly serious commentators like Foer or Krugman whose ideological passions have somehow detached them from reality. When intellectuals cease to feel bound by any obligation to argue responsibly, what hope is there for political dialogue?