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The Ribald Reign of King George the Second

Let's be Honest:

Why We Dislike Bush

July 12, 2002

Item One:

It's all over the political talk chatrooms: the latest "Bushism." The story is Bush remarked that "The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur."

Everyone's talking this one up. Hooboy, what an idiot the guy is, right? I mean, the word "entrepreneur" is French! Unfortunately, they are ignoring the context of the report.

Jack Malvern, in "An Idle Husband" (Diary), July 9 2002, Times of London, writes:
"TONY BLAIR’s special relationship with George W. Bush is under considerable strain. Not only do the two disagree on Yassir Arafat’s tenure as leader of the Palestinian Authority, but Blair has started telling disparaging anecdotes about the President.

Baroness Williams of Crosby recalled a story told to her by “my good friend Tony Blair” recently in Brighton. Blair, Bush and Jacques Chirac were discussing economics and, in particular, the decline of the French economy. “The problem with the French,” Bush confided in Blair, “is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.” "

Although the tale does at least have a source in the mainstream press, it is in a gossip column relating a tale told by somebody who talked to somebody else who.... We all know this is the stuff from whence Urban Legends come by the bucketful. A careful reader must do some guessing: was Blair relating an actual conversation, or was he making a wry comment by telling a joke? Or did the Baroness just make it up? You decide, but it is certainly not clear.

Now think about this: if the story were written about someone on your side of the political fence, how would you react to it?

Item Two:

George W. Bush sells his stock in Harken stock a few weeks before it drops in price. The SEC investigates. As reported in a mass e-mailing by, "The S.E.C. determined that Bush violated 4 laws in 1990 with his very timely Harken stock sale. He was found guilty. Of course he wasn't punished -- his father was president at the time".

Although implies with the phrase "was found guilty" and reference to the timely stock sale that Bush was convicted in court on insider trading, this is an inapt rendering of events. First, there was never a court trial. Second, it was not violations of four laws that was determined, but four violations of a single law. Third, the four findings of violations did not have to do with insider trading. They had to do with late filings. Fourth, the breathless tale leaves out the inconvenient fact that within a year the trading price of Harken had more than doubled from Bush's "sell" price - the trading decline at the time of Bush's sale was temporary.

A lot of people have spent a lot of time spinning out explanations for why filing a form late indicates a serious character flaw. Ask yourself: do you think these writers would make the same arguments if this case regarded someone on their side of the political fence?

Let's be honest with ourselves and with others, shall we? At this moment in time, we do not know whether Bush actually made the entrepreneur remark, or whether he actually engaged in insider trading. We may have suspicions, but they are only suspicions. And where do those suspicions come from? From our own image of the man - these stories seem to fit with it. But most of us only have that image -- we have never met him.

Let's be honest: When we make these particular kinds of criticisms -- undocumented sayings (documented sayings are another thing entirely!), possible legal shenanigans -- why are we making the criticisms? I'll bet you that for most of us it's not because we really give a hoot about whether Bush knows that "entrepreneur" is a French word, or whether Bush engaged in insider trading. We make these kind of criticisms because we don't like Bush for other reasons, but criticizing Bush on these grounds is easier.

It's easy to laugh at Bush for an alleged "entrepreneur" remark. And it's easy to make the case that we ought'nt have a felon in the Oval Office. Easy. Easy. Easy.

Easy. But not honest. We don't honestly know that Bush made the remark. We don't honestly know that Bush is a felon. What we honestly know is the record of Bush's political statements and actions. And these are what we do not like. But in order to challenge Bush on these grounds, we need to construct arguments, present evidence, provide examples and the like. And that's hard work.

There are important elements in the "entrepreneur" tale and the Harken scandal, but they require some thought to express. The "entrepreneur" tale, whether it is true or not, rings true because of other things Bush has said. The element we ought to be wary of is Bush's disdain for persons, ideas and nations that are not native to U.S. soil. This disdain can be documented using verifiable information, and leads to notable failings in his foreign, domestic and military policy. The Harken scandal is important because it reminds us of the Bush administration's cozy history with the very businesses it proposes to crack down on, not to mention the unfortunate commitment of the Bush team to run the U.S. government like a corporation. But these ideas don't fit tidily in a sound bite, and require some elaboration. It's easier just to relate the anecdote or focus on the literal crime of a decade ago.

The Republicans took the easy route with Clinton because they were too lazy to do the hard work to demonstrate that Clinton's policies were wrong. Some of the worst of the Republicans knew it was too dangerous to admit the honest reasons they couldn't stand Clinton: he was a Southerner, a redneck from a poor hick nobody family, one of those pushy-know-it-alls, not an old-money, silver-spooned, lucky-sperm-club member of a "proper" patrician family like Poppy Bush (that, and Clinton had the gall to marry a woman with a spine). It was easier for them to come up with other reasons for their disdain. It was easier for them to be dishonest about what they were doing.

Or so they thought: the American people are not entirely as stupid as those Republican operatives thought they were. Folks could tell the Lewinsky thing had diddly squat (bad choice of words) to do with Lewinsky, and a whole lot to do with something else the Republicans were afraid to say. As a consequence, the Republican establishment has the label "sleazy operators" painted in big bold letters on it as far as a big portion of the public is concerned. In the long run, the easy road didn't pay off too well.

Those of us with a vocal disdain for Bush ought to keep this in mind as the latest inevitable scandals unfold. If Bush is guilty of insider trading, then let the evidence come out and let people judge it on their own. Wait for Bush to say stupid things in public, and let people judge those veritable words on their own. But we ought not pretend that these are the real things we care about when we think about Bush. Let's be brave enough to be honest: we don't like Bush because, newspaper spin to the contrary, it seems Bush is President without legitimately winning an election. We think his energy policy is rancid. We don't go along with his plans for religion in the schools. We think his tax cut was a horrendously shortsighted and inequitable mistake. We disagree with his disregard for the Geneva Convention. We think the so-called "War on Terrorism" is a sham that is hurting others and will come back to bite the America Bush claims to love. We think the pursuit of falsehood is not a virtue. We believe in responding to reasonable risk assessment.

We believe in all these things and more. Let's be honest and focus on these issues that actually matter to us. Let's be honest and focus on those of Bush's known positions and actions that matter to the millions of people adversely affected by them. By all means, let's continue to make raucus, rowdy, ribald fun of this court-appointed Boy King -- but let's stick to what we know when we're doing it. In the long run, it's not only an ethically sounder course, but a more convincing one as well.

If you were moved by this article, you'll probably find False Witness to be inconsequential blather!

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