Friday, July 5, 2013

Strange Bedfellows

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Obama = Bush crowd celebrates every time someone from the Bush administration agrees with something President Obama does. It's as if any endorsement from those quarters proves their case that the two administrations are the same (ie, evil).

The hypocrisy of that line of reasoning was demonstrated when many of them supported certain elements of Ron Paul's presidential candidacy but wanted to distance themselves from his racism. Or when they chose to #StandWithRand - but not on everything he "stands" for.

The truth is that this habit of "guilt by association" is rampant in politics and it is one of the ugliest elements that feeds our polarization. As we recently saw in the Senate, we can disagree robustly with much of what people like John McCain and Lindsay Graham espouse politically. But when we agree on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, we should be willing to work with our political opponents. Otherwise we become just like the lunatic tea baggers.

The idea of comparing Bush to Obama carries a lot of emotional weight for many of us. That's because we lived through eight very difficult years of watching terrible policy and felt pretty powerless to change anything. Its why the emos use it - we get pissed!

One way to deal with that is to look back at the Bush legacy a bit more dispassionately - engage our intellect to balance out our emotional response. Surely there is a lot that we can argue against (lying us into war, the use of torture, creating the deficit we struggle with now, etc). But the truth is that everything they did wasn't evil. For example, even liberals have praised that administration's work on AIDS in Africa.

One of the things I began to notice a few years ago was that there was a pretty dramatic change in many of the worst abuses of the Bush administration around the time of the 2006 midterms. If you can remember back to that time you'll recall that it seemed to culminate in the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and the appointment of Robert Gates to be Secretary of Defense. Even at the time most pundits saw this as a sidelining of the Cheney/Rumsfeld coalition and rise of the "realists" more aligned with Poppy Bush. It's also true that over the years several court cases had been successful in curtailing some of that administration's abuses. And so, when it comes to ending the use of torture, stopping the influx to Gitmo, or setting in place the process to end the war in Iraq, some of the things that President Obama overtly championed were actually quietly initiated during the last few years of the Bush administration.*

When the "Bush-lite" crowd gets going on comparisons to President Obama, it is often about his alignment with some of the foreign policy positions during the last years of the Bush administration. Don't get me wrong...I'm not suggesting there was total alignment. But there was more overlap than some quarters (on both sides of the isle) are willing to admit. We can feel free to disagree with those policies. But to simply say that President Obama is "evil" because the Bush administration defined "evil" is a lazy (wo)man's argument. It plays on our emotions - not the facts.

* I want to say that I recognize how explosive it is to even suggest this possibility. Beginning to just ask some questions about this at Daily Kos a few years ago brought out the knives - even from people I considered my allies. Ultimately that's what prompted me to stop writing there. Disagree with me about this if you wish - but I cannot tolerate an environment where we can't even ask the questions or discuss the possibility.

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