Tuesday, December 21, 2010

43 Doesn't Deserve This

I almost feel sorry for George Bush.

"W."

"43."

Or, as the late liberal opinionator Molly Ivins called him - both derisively and sometimes somewhat affectionately, in a fellow Texan sort of way - "Shrub."

Conservatives grouse about our current president's lack of political street cred, but hey, Bush didn't have much more than Obama did. Dubya's two terms were won by thin margins, he dithered on illegal immigration, he started off strong then withered in Afghanistan, and invaded Iraq on mere hearsay about WMDs. In his new book, Bush at least has the guts to admit the whole Iraq fiasco was as much personal vendetta as it was anything else.

And, speaking of his new book, Bush as an author concedes to his critics many other mistakes he made while in office. Yes, the "Mission Accomplished" banner was ill-timed. No, he shouldn't have challenged terrorists to "bring it on." Yadda yadda yadda. By the time he left office, it seemed as many conservatives were holding the exit door for him as liberals.

Don't get me wrong: I'm still thankful we had Bush in office instead of Al Gore on 9/11. To be honest, I suspect Bush could have avoided many of his administration's gaffes and missed opportunities if he hadn't listened to the Rumsfelds, Roves, and Cheneys of his cabinet as much as he did. He apparently has a vibrant streak of personal morality, but it often got overshadowed by bigger egos from right-wing hawks who have as dim a view of public discourse as, well, Saddam Hussein.

Which leads to the reason I feel sorry for Bush - almost, anyway.

It Starts as Typical Bush-Bashing

In his review of 43's recent presidential memoirs, Politico's Michael Kinsley takes predictable delight in belittling the former Texas governor's personality and world view. Kinsley smugly attempts to smear Bush as an even more vapid pseudo-intellectual than Kinsley struggles to be himself. In a sense, Kinsley covers no new ground in his lambasting of Bush and conservatives in general, although he does concede parts of the book have actually been quite well written. An admission which, coming from the founder of Slate, is surprising in and of itself.

Other than that, Kinsley's critique of Bush and his book doesn't really get interesting until the very end - but not interesting in a good way.

After pointing out various foibles which Bush, the author, tries spinning towards his advantage now that he can control the medium, Kinsley decides to close his rambling critique with a curious topic.

Stem cell research.

Now, granted, I did not hang on to every word and deed of the Bush administration, but I didn't think the controversy of stem cell research - and the president's opposition to much of it - represented a critical part of those eight years. True, Bush took the unpopular position of advocating for life in all its forms, including the moments after conception. And true, many in the scientific and medical communities were outraged that such cutting-edge research was being thwarted by agents of the radical right. But on this issue, I happen to believe that not only was it not a defining issue of his presidency, but Bush was right.

Then It Gets Worse

Kinsley, obviously, doesn't. With complete disregard to all of the pompous indifference the liberal media claims makes them objective observers, Kinsley scoffs at what he perceives as Bush's negligible claim to morality, dismisses the pro-life camp as scientifically ignorant, and asserts - without any proof for any of this - that the stem cell issue has nothing to do with bioethics:

To call this a question of science versus morality is to stack the deck. Obviously morality wins. But what is immoral about stem cell research? Bush talks about how “new technologies like 3-D ultrasounds” will help “more Americans recognize the humanity of unborn babies.” He seems to think an embryo is like a fetus — a tiny human being — rather than what it is: a clump of a few dozen cells, invisible without a microscope, unthinking and unfeeling. Nature itself — or God himself, if you’re a believer — destroys most of the embryos it creates every year in miscarriages (usually before a woman even knows she’s pregnant). Thousands more are created and destroyed or frozen in fertility clinics — which Bush has no problem with and may even have used himself. (He and Laura, he says, tried unsuccessfully to have a baby and were ready to adopt when suddenly they had twins.) A very few of those surplus embryos from fertility clinics are used in stem cell research. By what logic do you bar the use of those few to do some real good, while ignoring all the others that come and go without doing any good for anyone?

Now, it's Kinsley's right to have his own opinions on the moral merits of stem cell research, and it's de rigueur for journalists of both left and right leanings to pepper their editorials with unsupported personal views. But Kinsley is reviewing a book. How professional is it of him to begin arguing with the author of the book he's supposedly reviewing about a legitimate matter of personal conscience?

Don't agree with Bush? Take a number - lots of people don't agree with him. But then again, lots of people don't agree with the liberal position on this issue either. So why start asking what's immoral about stem cell research? The question, as we all know, is both utterly complex and utterly simple, and has been addressed by better people in better forums than a book review by a self-avowed liberal. Up until this point in his review, Kinsley has managed to couch his disdain for Bush in clever prose and juicy morsels of Bush's own words, but to so blatantly strike out with an outburst about such a hotly debated issue smacks of Kinsley's own insolence and spite.

And Worse Still

But he didn't finish on such a sour note. No, he got even uglier.

Kinsley sulks:

The stem cell decision came early in Bush’s presidency. It would be nice to say that Bush grew in office — like Henry V, the wastrel youth and son of a famous father to whom he was often compared. But judging from this book, it didn’t happen. Although Bush is admirable for stopping, he probably was more fun when he drank.

Wow. Excuse me?

A man - who's a husband and a father - recognizes the control a particular substance has over him, he manages to wrest his life away from the plague of alcoholism, and you have the gall to suggest he probably was a lot more fun to be with when he was drunk?

Who does Kinsley think he is? What right does anybody have to say that a former alcoholic may have made a mistake by going sober? Try saying that to Laura Bush's face, or within earshot of either of their daughters.

Disagree with Bush on politics and policies. Shucks - disagree with Bush's claims that he's well-read and has a keen wit. But blast the man for not wanting to ruin his life by drinking?

Liberals complain that a lot of "hatred" emanates from conservatives.

With people like Kinsley in their ranks, I guess they should know.
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