Friday, August 06, 2004

In which I begin a measured discussion and dissolve into an incoherent bile-spewing rant

In a Post editorial this morning, Northwestern sociology prof Gary Alan Fine ponders the "surprising" and "troubling" ire felt by liberals and progressives towards the president.

This is not breaking new ground, really; who among us hasn't stepped back and marveled at the fierce loyalty and revulsion that this unremarkable man has inspired?

In his turn at bat, Professor Fine offers the following hypothesis:
My argument was that presidential hatred developed not from actions the president took while in office but from images of the president as a young adult. The president represented critical cultural divisions of a previous generation, divisions that were never fully healed.

Thus, Clinton was a draft-dodging hippie, not a Rhodes Scholar and Governor. Likewise, Bush is a fortunate son with few native talents that rode the coattails of his A-list connections past a young adulthood of mediocrity and banality.

I agree that his riches-to-riches story is not the stuff of inspiration, except insofar as it inspires resentment and disgust. We've all known some version of the undeserving, unworthy kid who had what we never did, didn't appreciate it as we would, and probably snorted it up his nose. But this alone does not inspire hatred. A lack of respect, a distrust, a good helping of scorn, sure. But if you've reached a certain age, and met enough of such people, you start to shrug it off as an unfair, but inevitable fact of life.

I can't speak for others, but for me, it's not about youthful follies; it's about a particularly needling sort of hypocrisy. I believe it was in The American President where Michael Douglas says "This job is all about character." And I know full well that getting worked out about hypocritical politicians is a recipe for an ulcer, but the glaring inconsistencies with this one are just too much for me to bear. Because this one, his whole moral capital was earned on character. It wasn't expertise, it wasn't gravitas or leadership, it was character. He made his character the commodity we were buying into, and he thereby made it open to scrutiny.

And so I hate that this man who never had to fear for his livelihood, never faced the prospect of unemployment checks, had companies handed to him, looks us in the eye and tell us that he, he knows the value of hard work and self-reliance. This man whose university entrance depended on family connections looks minorities in the eye and tells them that seeking those same preferences based on race is wrong. He tells us that each unborn life is sacred, but mockingly mimics the pre-execution pleas of a woman executed on his command.

But most of all, I know that we live in a dangerous age, and bile rises in my throat when I realize the the man selected to shepherd me through is a man who takes pride in the fact that he doesn't read a newspaper. A man to whom the contours of history are irrelevant details. There have been men in that office that could inspire a nation in terrible times to be a better, nobler people; we have a leader that tells us to shop more, reap tax cuts, and eye our neighbor with murderous distrust. I am desperate for a leader with nuanced thought, gravity, perspective, vision. And I'm supposed to be happy, because I have a leader that would be nice to drink a beer with.

I don't know, Professor Fine. It's a real mystery.


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