“Every Londoner now knows how it must have felt to be a citizen of Gaul, preparing for a visit from the Roman Emperor,” wrote Tom Utley in the Daily Telegraph — and he was one of the few supporters of the President to be found among the British media élites! More representative was Matthew Parris, a former Member of Parliament in the Conservative interest, in The Times:
In his own person, Mr. Bush is stirring up something worse than dislike of his presidency: he is inciting the world to hatred of Americans. We should send the President home with a message from the British to the American people. Your President is lowering not just his but your international reputation. People are beginning to talk as though you were made in your President’s image. Show us that you are better than this.
Where does such vitriol come from? What has Bush ever done to Matthew Parris that he should hate him so? I know Parris was anti-war. So was I. But don’t we have to give Bush (and Blair) credit for ridding the world of the monster, Saddam Hussein? Apparently not. The visceral dislike of Bush among the urban élites of Britain, like that among the comparable class of Americans, is not on account of anything he has done or not done. It is, I think, essentially aesthetic. What they object to is not Bush himself but the idea of Bush as the hayseed with the cowboy boots and the big belt-buckle who, like his father, tends to garble his sentences.
But perhaps his worst sin against good taste is his religiosity. In the lead-up to the war in Iraq last spring, the ace British television interviewer, Jeremy Paxman had Tony Blair, the prime minister, in the hot-seat and asked him what was widely regarded at the time as a killer question. When he was meeting with President Bush in America, Paxman asked, had Blair prayed with his opposite number? Blair refused to answer, and his refusal was widely regarded as an admission that he had prayed.
Well, why shouldn’t he? What was there to be ashamed of in saying a prayer? Ah, such questions could only be asked by those outside the élites. Those within them know that over the last 20 years or so religion in general and Christianity in particular have come to be regarded almost as a species of mental illness. This is even more true in Britain than in the United States and is a big part of the reason for the protests against President Bush during his state visit to our number one ally.
As John Derbyshire noted in National Review Online, a lot of the anti-Americanism in Britain today comes from determinedly irreligious Britons who think their country was dragged into war by a religious nut on some kind of private crusade. Thus Vicki Woods in the Daily Telegraph: “As George Bush told Sir David Frost on Sunday, ‘Tony is a man of strong faith.’ Obviously, the President meant it as a compliment, but I’m a lot happier with men of strong intellect and lukewarm-to-medium faith myself.” A lot of Britons, perhaps a majority, think this way, and you can almost see Tony cringing at Bush’s compliment: “No, George! Don’t tell them I’m a man of strong faith! It’s the kiss of political death.”
Yet as William Shawcross notes in a new book,
In one important way Blair is more like Bush than Clinton. Though Clinton was also a committed Christian, it would be hard to describe him as a conviction politician. Blair is just that, at least on some major issues. His Christianity informs his life, and it gives him passionately held certainties. Like President Bush — and unlike almost all of his secular European partners –Tony Blair tends to describe major issues in terms of right and wrong, if not of good and evil.
This, too, is scandalous — to intellectuals, anyway, in both Britain and America. They, however, are caught in rather a bind, since the avowed enemies of Britain and America also think this way. You’d think it would be hard for the left to fault Western leaders for theocratic tendencies when doing so is to the benefit of non-Western theocrats that make them look like namby-pamby liberals. But the left of both countries is clearly up to the challenge of such inconsistency. It’s enough to make you agree with Mark Steyn that “Bush-hatred is just a form of cultural self-hatred.”
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