Us vs them

The NY Times recently ran a long, interesting article on the Bush presidency–if you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to print it and read it at your leisure. It’s been widely cited in other blogs, especially for the stunning, arrogant “reality-based community” comment.

There’s something else that stood out for me in the article, something that relates to something I’ve been wondering about for a long time.

Bush has very strong support among a lot of people who identify themselves as traditional, conservative Republicans–but Bush is not traditional or conservative, his rhetoric notwithstanding. He has presided over a huge expansion of the government, adding employees as quickly as possible (perhaps to offset the disastrous private-sector job losses the economy has seen) and expanding non-defense discretionary spending faster than any of the last five presidents, dramatically extending government intrusiveness in a way that should–but doesn’t–set off alarm bells for 2nd-Amendment absolutists (though the 2nd Amendment itself has remained sacrosanct), screwing over the military even as he calls upon it for his misguided adventure, and of course passing lopsided tax cuts that benefit the very wealthy.

So why do salt-of-the-earth regular folks like him so much? Well, he certainly has that homespun image down. The way he talks about his record certainly makes him seem like a better president than he is. He’s a hardass on social-conservative issues. So those might all be enough, but perhaps there’s something else:

…Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. “You think he’s an idiot, don’t you?” I said, no, I didn’t. “No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!”

What I’ve been wondering is whether all those dirt farmers in flyover country know that the effete liberals on the coasts hate G.W, and so they embrace him–“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. If so, G.W. isn’t the catalyst for our current polarization, he’s the mirror of it. This quote suggests that maybe it’s so. But the enemy of your enemy may just be a different kind of enemy.

6 thoughts on “Us vs them”

  1. “You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America,”

    the proper response, of course, is “who won the popular vote in 2000?”

  2. Like much of middle America, he has abandoned fiscal conservatism (which is hard) and has embraced social conservatism (which is easy). We’ve grown fat (literally) and complacent by borrowing from our great-great-great grandchildren to pay for our pet programs and entitlements instead of paying as we go.

    The truth is, we no longer care. Prescription drug coverage for seniors sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? Couple it with a tiny tax break for middle class families and you’ve practically bought yourself an election.

    But we can’t blame him alone. He doesn’t write the legislation. Every single senator and representative nibbled at the trough of that recent $136 billion corporate tax cut. And nobody’s pissed because everybody got a share.

    Nevertheless, I’m befuddled by his continuing popularity. Then again, I thought Reagan was an insipid old fool (turns out he was a senile old fool). When he died, I was mortified to hear people I had previously thought well of speak of him in glowing terms as some kind of benevolent, warm-hearted old statesman. Blech. Ick. Ptooey!

  3. Actually, in many cases, Bush (that his, his administration, which is to say, lobbying groups) does write the legislation: both houses of Congress are compliant. As long as they get to lard his legislation with some pork, they’re happy, and apparently Bush hasn’t vetoed a single bill since he took office (as of, at least, June, the most recent info I could find).

    Prescription drug coverage for seniors sounds nice. Too bad it’s really just a corporate-welfare program for Big Pharma. The tax break for middle-income families is a myth: they take with one hand what they give with another. The real winners are people bequeathing more than $1 million in their wills, and people who make most of their income from stocks and non-wage sources.

  4. I read that article in the NYT. Thanks, Adam, for ruining my day. ;-)

    The author was pulling no punches and had a very clear agenda. And yet, as I was reading it, I kept thinking of how many of my fellow Americans would read it and rather than finding Bush’s intellect (or lack thereof) and behavior appalling would instead nod their heads in approval.

    Dubya may yet prove to be the first step down the slippery slope toward Christian theocracy. In which case, I’m moving to Canada.

  5. The Republicans have always been very good at getting midwesterners on their side, by emphasizing “values” issues and using various schemes to hide the fact that in terms of pocketbook issues, they’d be better off with the Democrats.

    An excellent one-act play illustrating how lower-income workers have been duped is Al Franken’s “The Waitress and the Lawyer”. It appears in Franken’s “Lies and the Lying Liars…” and, in abbreviated form, in a MoveOn ad.

  6. Somewhat relevant is this bit from

    “A new study from the University of Maryland supports the thesis that Kerry and Bush supporters apparently live in different universes, complete with different facts and probably different laws of physics. Bush supporters believe it is a fact that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; Kerry supporters don’t. Bush supporters believe Saddam was supporting al Qaeda; Kerry supporters don’t. Bush supporters believe most people in other countries approve of the war in Iraq; Kerry supporters don’t. Read it for yourself.”

    The study itself is located here:

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