President George W. Bush has created the most diverse administration in human history; he has passed and signed the largest education bill ever (which was, incidentally, written by Ted Kennedy); he has created the largest new social entitlement in 40 years; he has liberated 50 million Muslims from the grips of fundamentalist, fascist regimes. Yet the Left foams at the mouth and declares, "Anyone but Bush." It doesn't even like Kerry. It just wants "anyone but Bush". Why? What lingers behind this hatred of the American President?
In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have invited two members of the Left to duel with two members of the Right. Joining our distinguished panel today are, from the Left:
Joshua Frank, the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out: How Liberals Did Bush's Work For Him. He is also a contributor to Counterpunch's new book on the 2004 elections, Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. He currently lives in Albany, New York;
Robert Jensen, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He styles himself a “critic of the U.S. empire” and is a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center;
and from the Right:
Elinor Burkett, a former leftist whose travels throughout the Muslim world made her change her ideological views. She is the author of So Many Enemies, So Little Time. An American Woman in All the Wrong Places;
Daniel J. Flynn, the author of Why the Left Hates America and of the new book Intellectual Morons : How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas.
FP: Joshua Frank, Robert Jensen, Elinor Burkett and Dan Flynn, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. It is a pleasure to have you here.
Ms. Burkett, let me begin with you.
The Bush administration has liberated 50 million human beings from two of the most barbarian, vicious and sadistic regimes of our modern time (Saddam and the Taliban). President Bush is leading the force of democracy and freedom against religious fanatics that persecute women, homosexuals and all other democratic rights that are at the core – supposedly -- of leftist ideology. Yet the Left clearly sees Bush as a far greater evil than anything that Al Qeada and Islamic fundamentalism represent in the War on Terror and has taken the side of the enemy. What explains this bizarre phenomenon?
Burkett: Over the past year or so, I've been thinking a lot about the rhetoric of today's Left and am haunted by the absence of the word freedom. I cut my leftist teeth on the rhetoric of the Spanish Civil War, on old songs that cried, "Freedom doesn't come like a bird on the wing," on the notion that struggling, even dying, for freedom is a noble pursuit. And the only way to answer your question is to talk about why that leftist vision has been replaced by language that sounds like Chamberlain's.
First, the Left is fixated on Vietnam, seemingly incapable of using any other historical reference point by which to judge American foreign policy. If you adopt the Vietnam paradigm of the 1960s New Left as the ONLY possible paradigm for evaluating U.S.military action, you can't help but denouncing all such action as imperialist, as an attempt at oppression and/or exploitation, and as the road to a quagmire. Indeed, if you had applied that paradigm to U.S. involvement in the war in Europe in the 1940s, you would have wound up in the same place.
Second, the Left has lost so much idealism that it now lacks the concept that some things are worth dying for. After all, one of the main reasons they give for opposing our presence in Iraq is the death of our troops. Gee, would they have opposed the actions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain because some of those volunteers died?
FP: Mr. Flynn?
Flynn: For 70 or so years, the hard Left looked to the Soviet Union for their opinions. Their City Upon a Hill is gone. But they still have their Sodom and Gomorrah. The Left now defines itself by positioning itself opposite American policy--even when American policy promotes their stated aims of nation building and human rights.
This knee-jerk anti-Americanism often leads to a projection of leftist ideals upon the enemies of America--with some activists I've interviewed imagining that their fight for socialism, environmentalism, and peace is somehow shared by the terrorists. When protestors first started telling me that George W. Bush is the equivalent of Osama bin Laden, I was not at first sure whether they were trying to make Bush look worse or Osama look better. I'm still a bit confused what the intended effect of making such a statement is.
FP: Mr. Frank, why does the Left hate Bush so much? And what do you make of Elinor Burkett’s and Dan Flynn’s comments?
Frank: The Left hates Bush for many of the same reasons traditional conservatives also hate him. He's run an outlandish deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office says may grow by $2.3 trillion over the next decade. That is a conservative estimate. He has presided over the loss of 2 million US jobs. Don't forget, Bush like Clinton, is a free-trading neoliberal. He supports the expansion of NAFTA into CAFTA and the FTAA. He caved to the WTO, and relinquished U.S. sovereignty over steel imports. Not to mention his assault on civil liberties following the horrific attack on 9/11, by thrusting the Patriot Act through congress.
Of course, then there is Iraq. Congressional appropriations claim the occupation could cost tax-payers upwards of $166 billion dollars. The reason? Iraq was not even an imminent threat to their neighbors. No WMDs found. No connection whatsoever to the terrorist attacks in 2001. These are just some the reasons conservatives and the Left should hate Bush. However, to be fair, let's not forget the complicity of the Democrats in virtually all of the aforementioned failures.
As for Ms. Burkett's comment that the Left cannot get past Vietman. We backed Saddam in the 1980s, Pinochet, Suharto, the death squad regimes of Latin America, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Mobutu, the Nicaraguan contras, and more. We have also waged unilateral acts of aggression against Panama, Grenada, and many other nations throughout the 20th century. So we can, and indeed have, gotten past Vietnam in our fixation and disgust for U.S. foreign policy.
Jensen: First, this discussion is distorted by the claim that the Bush administration “liberated” the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s no evidence that was a motivation for those invasions and occupations, and so far it isn’t even an unintended consequence of Bush’s illegal wars. This framing of the question also ignores the fact that the Bush administration lied to scare the public into supporting the invasion of Iraq, a minor point perhaps to the right-wing but something that should concern people committed to democracy.
Beyond that, the caricature of the left presented bears no resemblance to my political positions or the politics of anyone I know on the left. The ideals of solidarity and freedom that have long animated the left continue to be at the core of left politics.
The phrase “knee-jerk anti-Americanism” illustrates how fundamentally anti-democratic some segments of the right are these days. Claiming that people are anti-American because they oppose the policies of the existing leadership implies that there is some settled notion of what it means to be an American or what policies America should pursue, a rejection of even the most minimal criteria for democracy. It’s difficult to understand under what theory of democracy one could claim that dissent from the self-congratulatory pronouncements of the powerful is anti-American.
But to return to the central question: The term “hate” trivializes opposition to policies. I don’t hate George W. Bush, any more than I hated Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush when I spoke out against those administrations’ policies that I thought were illegal and immoral, especially in the realm of foreign policy and war.
Flynn: You can't pick your enemies. But if you could, George W. Bush could hardly have done a better job selecting his opponents than the ones that have been assigned to him. Obnoxious Hollywood liberals, anti-war protestors comparing Bush to Hitler, the deceitful Michael Moore imagining that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build an oil pipeline--all of these folks have served to repulse average Americans from the Left and attract them to the President.
I found Mr. Frank's comments particularly interesting. George W. Bush signed campaign finance reform. He launched the largest entitlement program in several generations with the prescription drug plan. He sought to grant amnesty to illegal aliens. Despite denouncing "nation building" in the 2000 debates, he is unmatched among his recent predecessors as a presidential nation builder. He has increased funding for AIDS, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other liberal pet budgetary items. On policy grounds, many liberals and some leftists have much in common with George W. Bush. Yet, Bush evokes "hate" from his liberals and the Left in a way that Ronald Reagan--a far more conservative politician--never did. Like Richard Nixon, George W. Bush has become a lightening rod for leftist outrage in spite of many of his policies.
Burkett: Wow! Should I start with the "death squads" of Israel and Turkey? Or with the assertion that the mere utterance of the phrase "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" is "fundamentally anti-democratic"?
I don't believe for one second that anyone on the left hates Bush primarily because of the deficit. If he had run the country into deficit by funding a national health plan, I don’t expect that he'd be getting high-fives in Santa Monica and Madison.
I agree with Frank that U.S. foreign policy was an atrocious tangle of human rights violations, exploitation and oppression for most of the 20th century. And, certainly, neither by design nor by result did these policies liberate anyone.
But if it is true, as Jensen would have us believe, that the "ideals of solidarity and freedom" remain at the core of left politics," how can he ignore the reality that the women of Afghanistan are no longer forced to wear burqas, that they are no longer being stoned to death in the old Olympic stadium? Is that caring about freedom?
There are dozens of things that make me angry with George Bush. But I find myself even angrier with those who profess to favor freedom yet refuse to acknowledge its advance simply because they can't stand its architect. My female friends in Kabul don't give a damn whether Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in order to liberate them. They care that they have found a bit of space from which to build a future.
To continue reading this symposium, click here.