George H. W. Bush – Missing The Point Regarding Criticism Of His Son

Posted in General by TBartine on October 17, 2009 No Comments yet

In a recent interview, former president George H. W. Bush lamented the “coarsening” of the American political discourse, and was quick to say that the left is as guilty as the right, and that he’d very much like to offer up the names of some liberal commentators guilty of adding incivility to the political environment.  The names he offers us:  Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, who he goes on to claim are “sick puppies” for the way they reported on the presidency of his son.

Here’s a clip containing the senior Bush’s comments, plus the reactions of both Olbermann and Maddow:

While I certain understand that as father to George W. Bush, George Sr. must certainly take great pain from the wealth of criticism levied at his son over the years.  However, Bush like so many others, fails to realize the following points:

1 - Coarse political criticism has existed since the advent of American politics…and even predates it considerably.

2 - It has neither increased nor decreased in its “incivility.”

3 - Perhaps most importantly…not all commentary and criticism is created equal.

The first point made above should be obvious to anyone with even a high school graduate’s schooling in American History.  For those wishing to learn more about the history of American political discourse, this site is one of the best collections of links that I have ever seen.  From George Washington to Barack Obama, the free press and political publications have been rife with near constant criticism coming from opposing quarters, and sometimes even from within a politician’s own camp.

Which leads nicely into my second point.  This criticism, historically, was often bombastic…and occasionally vile.  George Washington, despite being arguably the most popular President in U.S. History, was often portrayed as old and indecisive…and his actions regarding our relationships with Britain and France were vociferously objected to by political enemies.  John Adams was mocked openly for his weight, his angry temper, and some of his positions which often resembled more “monarchic” thinking than “democratic.”  Andrew Jackson was denounced as a country bumpkin, and his wife was referred to as a whore and worse.

Take this political cartoon as an example: notice that Lincoln leans on a circus sign…mocking him for holding blacks in high esteem, while insinuating that his insistence on bringing blacks into the political sphere would do little more than to create a circus side show:

Or this one…portraying Lincoln as no more than a war-hungry idiot, trampling the Constitution:

No…mockery and personal attacks are nothing new to the American political arena.  In fact, it is entirely possible than instead of bemoaning how much our culture and political criticism has changed…we might do better to decry the fact that it has changed so little.  The means of distribution (cable television, tweets to cellphones, the internet, email) may have changed, allowing many more citizens to be exposed to the criticism of politicians and their policies, but the content and tone of this criticism has changed little in the last 200 years.

That being said, perhaps the real point missed by Bush Sr., and so many other Americans, is that all criticism is not created equal.

It is certain that Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow criticized George W. Bush with frequency and with passion.  They provided their audiences with facts, reports, studies…and they used an impassioned rhetoric to engage their viewers, to entertain their viewers, and to attempt to arouse their viewers passions to act on the previously mentioned facts, reports, and studies.  There is a word for this: it’s called activism.  What they told viewers was happening, was truly happening, and what they said would come to pass…did.  A failed war based on a lie.  Far-reaching violations of the Constitution, resulting in abuses to civil liberties.  A failure to keep Americans safe from terrorists.  A failure to aid Americans threatened by a natural disaster.  An economy in ruins.

It is certain that Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh defended George W. Bush, and criticize Barack Obama, with frequency and passion.  They provide their audiences with distorted information and sometimes outright falsehoods, based on what they know to be their viewers preconceived prejudices and fears…and they use an impassioned rhetoric to engage their viewers, to entertain their viewers, and to attempt to arouse their viewers passions to act on the previously mentioned misinformation and disinformation.  There is a word for this: it’s called propaganda.  What they tell us is happening, is not and will never be revealed to be, and what they tell us will happen, has no chance of occurring.  No communist America.  No destruction of the upper class.  No widespread abandonment of morality.  No being absorbed into some “international monolithic world order.“  No “shadow government” of czars.

These different approaches can be seen reflected in those listening to the commentators who employ them.  Moderates and liberals watched Olbermann and Maddow.  They learned of Bush’s subversions of the Constitution, his foreign policy debacles, his hawkish deceptions, and his economic blunders as they were occurring…and they were displeased.  Moderates and conservatives similarly watched O’Reilly, Beck, and Limbaugh.  They remained blissfully ignorant of Bush’s actions and the consequences, many of them immediate, to our country.  They would excuse and defend Bush’s actions right up until the point that he was no longer politically necessary and viable.  But it was too late.  The damage was done.  And now they join in the conservative chorus, propelled by conservative pundits, to criticize and denounce all efforts by a new, Democratic president to engage in much-needed reform and to undo the damage of his predecessor both at home and abroad.  In short, they failed to see what one president was doing AS HE WAS DOING IT…yet feel they have the capacity with the current president to predict WHAT THE FUTURE OUTCOMES of his actions will be.

I’m sorry, George Bush.  I know it must be hard to hear of the comprehensive failings of your son.  But to object to those people who were trying to tell us of these failings as they were occurring, as opposed to those who told conservatives of them only once it was already too late…is irresponsible.  This criticism of yours represents a level of self-delusion and petulance that is not suited to a man of your years and political experience.  And to group all contemporary political criticism together, does a disservice to the both the critics and the American people…who desperately need to learn how to tell which they should be listening to, and which they should be ignoring.