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Why "they" love him: the baffling appeal of George W. Bush

What liberal infidels will never understand about the president
The Church of Bush
by Rick Perlstein
July 20th, 2004 10:00
Here are some things that Christopher Nunneley, a conservative activist in Birmingham, Alabama, believes. That some time in June, apparently unnoticed by the world media, George Bush negotiated an end to the civil war in Sudan. That Bill Clinton is "lazy" and Teresa Heinz Kerry is an "African colonialist." That "we don't do torture," and that the School of the Americas manuals showing we do were "just ancient U.S. disinformation designed to make the Soviets think that we didn't know how to do real interrogations."

Chris Nunneley also believes something crazy: that George W. Bush is a nice guy.

It's a rather different conclusion than many liberals would make. When we think of Bush's character, we're likely to focus on the administration's proposed budget cuts for veterans, the children indefinitely detained at Abu Ghraib, maybe the story of how the young lad Bush loaded up live frogs with firecrackers in order to watch them explode.

Conservatives see it differently.

"He's very compassionate," says Chris, an intelligent man who's open-minded enough to make listening to liberals a sort of hobby. "If you look at the way he's bucked the far right: I mean, $15 billion for AIDS in Africa!" He speaks at the church services of blacks, and "you don't fake that. That's not just a photo op."

Of course, two years after Bush made his pledge, only 2 percent of the AIDS money has been distributed (in any event, it will mainly go to drug companies). And appearing earnest in the presence of African Americans has been a documented Bush strategy for wooing moderate voters since the beginning.

So what does a conservative say when such "nice guy" jazz is challenged? Say, when you ask whether a nice guy would invade a country at the cost of untold innocent lives on the shakiest of pretenses? Or, closer to home, whether he would (as Bush did in late 2000) go on a fishing trip while his daughter was undergoing surgery, and use the world's media to mockingly order her to clean her room while he was away? Doesn't signify with Chris. "If you're in one camp, the idea of being firm, 'tough love,' is very popular. If you're in another, you can say, 'Well, that's just mean!' On my side, well, I like the whole idea of 'tough love.' "

This is a journey among the "tough love" camp. The people who, even in the face of evidence of his casual cruelty, of his habitual and unchristian contempt for weakness, love George Bush unconditionally: love him when he is tender, love him when he is tough—but who never, ever are tough on him.


On July 15, the Bush-Cheney campaign organized 6,925 "Parties for the President" in supporters' homes nationwide. I chose to attend in Portland, Oregon. The right love to believe the whole world is against them. In a county where Ralph Nader got a quarter of the votes of George Bush and Al Gore well over double, the sense of martyrdom is especially fragrant: Portland's conservatives are like others anywhere, only more so. One leader told me that here, it's the conservatives who are oppressed by the gays.

They certainly love them some George Bush.

Twelve people gather on the houseboat of Bruce Broussard, a perennially failed candidate popular among local conservatives for, well, his race: He is African American. First the group hears Laura Bush on a conference call. ("All of us know what makes George a great president. He has the courage of his convictions, the willingness to make the tough decisions and stick with them.") Then, they get a bewilderingly disjointed address from their host (he hits some key points from his recent Senate platform: presidential terms of six years instead of four, a cabinet-level Department of Senior Citizens with himself as secretary). Finally, beef-and-cheese dip loading down a plateful of Mrs. Broussard's homemade tortilla chips, I open the floor to the question of why they personally revere George Bush.

Ponytailed Larry, who wears the stripes of a former marine gunnery sergeant on his floppy hat, bursts into laughter; it's too obvious to take seriously. "Honesty. Truth. Integrity," he says upon recovering. "I don't think there's any difference between the governor of Texas and the president of the United States."

Gingerly, I offer one difference: The governor ran for president on a platform of balanced budgets, then ran the federal budget straight into the red.

Responds Larry (of the first president since James Garfield with a Congress compliant enough never to issue a single veto): "Well, it's interesting that we blame the person who happens to be president for the deficit. As if he has any control over the legislature of the United States."

Larry's wife, Tami Mars, the Republican congressional nominee for Oregon's third district, proposes a Divine Right of Eight-Year Terms: "Let the man finish what he started. Instead of switching out his leadership—because that's what the terrorists are expecting."

Larry is asked what he thinks of Bush's budget cuts for troops in the field. He's not with Bush on everything: "I hope he reverses himself on that."

I note that he already has, due to Democratic pressure.

Faced with an existential impossibility—giving the Democrats credit for anything—he retreats into a retort I'll hear again and again tonight: Nobody's perfect. "I don't think we're going to find a situation in which we find a person with which we're 100 percent comfortable."

Then he reels off a litany of complaints about Bush. "Horrible underemployment situation . . . the big-business aspect of the Republican Party I have some issues with."

The next thing I hear is the last refuge of the cornered conservative: a non sequitur fulmination against the hippie Democrats.

"Having said that, what's your option? To have more bike trails?"


The vibe at my next stop is different. None of the people at Kitty and Tom Harmon's bungalow are stupid. Instead they are the kind of "well-informed" that comes from overlong exposure to conservative media: conservatives who construct towers of impressive intellectual complexity on toothpick-weak foundations. My hosts are Stepford-nice (Mom sports "Hello Kitty!" seat covers in her car and loads me down with shortbread for the flight home; Dad shows off the herb garden he'll use to season my eggs if I consent to stay the night). But everyone present shows a glint of steel when their man's character is challenged.

"One of the reasons I respect this president is that he is honest. I believe that after eight years, the dark years of the Clinton administration, we finally have a man in the White House who respects that office and who speaks honestly."

The speaker is Christina, an intense, articulate, and passionate publicist.

"Such a refreshing change for the country. People believe in the president."

I don't mention recent poll figures suggesting that more Americans believe John Kerry than Bush when it comes to terrorism.

After affirming "I still believe that there are weapons of mass destruction"—the commonplace is beyond challenge—Christina displays another facet of the conservative fantasy: Going into Iraq, she says, "is not the sort of thing one does if one wants to be popular. . . . He doesn't stick his finger in the wind." I don't challenge that point, either—though if I did I might ask why Bush scheduled the divisive debate over the intervention for the height of the 2002 campaign season, more certain of what Andrew Card called "new products" than his father, who held off deliberation on the first Iraq war until after the 1990 congressional elections.

Instead I challenge the grandmotherly lady sitting on the piano bench.

Says Delores: "There is an agenda—to get rid of God in our country."

Chirps the reporter: Certainly not on the part of John Kerry, who once entertained dreams of entering the priesthood.

I'm almost laughed out of the room.

I ask why Kerry goes to mass every week if he's trying to get rid of God. "Public relations!" a young man calls out from across the room. "Same reason he does everything else." Cue for Delores to repeat something a rabbi told her: "We have to stand together, because this is what happened in Europe. You know—once they start taking this right and that right. And you have the Islamic people . . . "

She trails off. I ask whether she's referring to the rise of fascism. "We're losing our rights as Christians: yes. And being persecuted again."

I ask why so many liberals believe the administration lies, if there might be anything to the suspicions. What about the report of the Los Angeles Times that morning, that the State Department dismissed 28 of the claims the White House demanded Colin Powell bring before the U.N. as without foundation in fact?

Delores: "You make mention of a paper in Los Angeles that made such and such a report; well, that doesn't mean it's accurate or complete or unbiased."

I respond that the report came from a memo reproduced in the recent report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican-dominated. I'm not sure whether she hasn't heard me or just has decided to change the subject. "John Kerry attended a party in which there was bad language, bad humor, being evidenced in all quarters!" she cries. Kitty chimes in: "And Kerry said it reflects American values!"

I ask Tom what role he sees in America for nonbelievers. "Well, if people are of an opinion that their God is supreme and are willing to burn your house down to prove it or dismantle your car to prove it or make all sorts of loud noises, disturbing the peace, and say that they have a right to do that in the name of God. . . ." he begins, in his best Mr. Rogers voice. Later I parse out what the hell he was talking about. I was asking about atheists. But Tom understood "nonbeliever" according to the premise that God is exclusively Judeo-Christian. It wasn't about whether you believe in anything, but whether you dared diverge from his belief.

Walking me to my car (he insisted), Tom, who works for a construction conglomerate, reaches for a favorite metaphor to describe George Bush: linoleum. "You know: Usually you get a microfilm of the color, and if you drop a plate on it you discover it's an ugly-looking floor. Then linoleum came out—the pattern goes through the entire one-eighth of material. You can drop a plate on it, and the color is true all the way down!"

His face glows. He gets a far-off look in his eyes. That's his Bush.

It's like a scene from a John Waters movie.


What all does it mean? The right-wing website Free Republic is infamous for galvanizing harassment campaigns against ideological enemies, but it also has a lighter side: a robust culture of George W. kitsch. "Freepers" display and study the famous photograph of Bush embracing Ashley Faulkner, whose mother perished on 9-11, a woeful, iconic look on his face ("The protective encirclement of her head by President Bush's arm and hand is the essence of fatherly compassion," Freeper luvbach1 writes); the ladies exchange snaps of the president in resolute pose, rendering up racy comments about his sexiness; they reference an image of Bush jogging alongside a soldier wounded in Iraq like it's a Xerox of his very soul. "He's the kind of guy who's going to remember to call a soldier who's lost a leg," one citizen of the Free Republic reflects, "and go jogging with him when he gets a replacement prosthetic." Revering Bush has become, for people like this, a defining component of conservative ideology.

Once I interviewed a Freeper who told me he first became a committed conservative after discovering the Federalist Papers. "I absolutely devoured them, recognizing, my God, these things were written hundreds of years ago and they still stand up as some of the most intense political philosophy ever written."

I happen to agree, so I asked him—after he insisted Bush couldn't have been lying when he claimed to have witnessed the first plane hit the World Trade Center live on TV, after he said the orders to torture in Iraq couldn't have possibly come from the top, all because George Bush is too fundamentally decent to lie—what he thinks of the Federalists' most famous message: that the genius of the Constitution they were defending was that you needn't base your faith in the country on the fundamental decency of an individual, because no one can be trusted to be fundamentally decent, which was why the Constitution established a government of laws, not personalities.

"If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary . . . "

Conservatives see something angelic in George Bush. That's why they excuse, repress, and rationalize away so much.

And that is why conservatism is verging on becoming an un-American creed.
... 21.Jul.2004 17:26

this thing here

the giant mind-fuck that is politics.

it's fucked in the head to say that shrub is honest. and it's just as fucked to try and argue that he isn't with someone who really believes he is. god help us, people believe the most fucked up things sometimes. but what can anyone do? piss in a fan? beat our heads against a wall some more? argue a dead horse even harder? i get really really tired of politics when i read stories like this...

oh well. they'll get it sorted out upstairs eventually. we all will one day, when the big white light settles down over us and we feel ourselves drifting off into that peaceful pl... oops. that's just christian marketing. life sucks, then you die...

Bush is a mass murderer, evidence 21.Jul.2004 17:46



As for that picture of Faulkner, well Bush looks like to me that he is pondering painfully about the fact that he personally--due to his actions on the 9-11 standdown--allowed her father to be killed.


As for this quote on Bush:
"He's very compassionate," says Chris, an intelligent man who's open-minded enough to make listening
to liberals a sort of hobby."

Let's pause to remember how many people Governor Bush sent to be killed in Texas, a record for even Texas, which averaged about a human sacrificed for Bush's glee about one every two weeks. If you think that glee is hardly the correct term, remember once more,

the pre-judicial coup interview he did on TV, where he mocked that woman who he was sending to be killed, as she pleaded for mercy. In a little falsetto voice and that smirky smile, he said remembered for the intervier what she said, "oh, please don't kill me,...". Then he smiled. He of course signed her death warrant anyway. Even the interviewer looked a little pale, like "did I just hear the presidential candidate mock one of his death sentences on national television.?" That is of course why we rarely see Bush in any format unless it is heavily scripted, and that is why Bush--like Reagan did--always travells with a canned audience to clap for him. Bush travels to miiltary bases and gets rounds of forced applause, which is then piped into the corporate media. Bush is afraid of how much the whole country hates him and his policies, whether they are right left and inbetween.


Let's remember the thousands killed in the illegal Nazi war crimes (for these are the original Nazi war crimes) of preemptive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and....who knows whom next. This is Bush's Anchluss. They already have Austria though, I forgot. They have Schwartzenegger, who's father was in the Nazi WWII SA--and he joined voluntarily.

Bush's long time school chum is head of the 'death services' corporate monopoly of the United States. He was head of that company when it was discovered his Florida operation was simply dropping off bodies in the woods and collecting the fees from the bereaved. They were even buried in the wrong places, when they were buried at all. Quite a scam. The same criminal activities were occuring in Texas by the way. And when Governor, Bush was called to testify because he had given his friend some sort of Texas protection while he was Governor of that state. However, Bush even though called by the judge refused to testify. Of course another illegal point about his entire career of a string of black pearls of illegality, though there's another.


And then of course you would have to forget the thousands that he is complicit in murdering in NYC on 9-11.

Overall, Bush frankly should die. Though in a legal manner. He deserves the electric chair for the mass murders on 9-11 he is complicit for. It's all out there unfortunately folks, you are just so scared of the implications that your judicial coup president is a mass murdering psychopath who wants to take more Americans out--and take more countries pre-emptively out which is what Hitler did. He is on a warpath against literally every person who cherishes their thin democratic freedoms, against everyone on the planet, who will feel the whip of his executive supremacy police state on the U.S. which has gone international.

Anybody know who that interviewer was or when exactly that occurred?

Third, let's remember that the only person that Bush pardoned while Governor

People who 'love Bush' are even more moronic than he is. Though I expect that more than half of what we see in the media is just that. Media. Nothing behind it except the tiny wimpy groups of neocons playing at being the Wizard of Oz. It's how Goebbels did it for Hitler. it's how Rove does it for Bush.

personality cult--or lack of personality? 21.Jul.2004 22:08


Fahrenheit 9/11, aside from everything else, is an examination into the character of Bush, or more accurately into the abscence of character. For me, Bush will always be summed up by that 9 minutes after Andrew card told him about the second plane hitting the second tower. Picking up that book, trying to deceive even himself for a second. It was classic.

Aside from the worsening situation we're in now, we can't look at Bush and really say "Here's a man that, by sheer power of will, has made things better or worse." All we can say is that here's a man that was elected coincidentally, and by another coincidence was in office when a massive terror attack took place.

There isn't even a suitable personality cult for the corporate world to latch onto. there's nothing there but an abscence or an abscess, a grinning cavity.

Could it be! 22.Jul.2004 10:25

Bird dog

The fact that most americans are a carbon copy of the mindless drone that he shows him self to be.

Think for just a second, doesn't he look as dumb as a door stop!

They respect him because it makes them feel better about their own ignorance.

Look at it! 22.Jul.2004 14:05


Need I say anymore!

The baffling appeal of Personality Politics (tm) 23.Jul.2004 00:43


The establishment is never happier than when protestors and dissidents are obsessed with personalities. That way, they can switch personalities and get on with their agenda. For example: people (with very good, irrefutable reasons) hate Bush. So do I. You kind of have to, given what he has done. But is Bush the reason that things were done under his administration? he's not that smart, really. He is a puppet. An employee who got the job done but made America look un-classy in th eprocess. What th eruling elite need now is someone who is much classier, but who will push for an identical agenda, although in a better STYLE. Kerry is that man! So while everyone is kvetching about Bush The Idiot, Kerry steps in to save the day for th eruling elite. Government is about SYSTEMS, not people. People come and go. The beast has many heads. Government is a hydra. Impeach one head, and fifty spring up in its place. And you can bet that some will be more charming than the last.

Forget personalities and focus on ISSUES. It is the only way to defeat this oppressive regime. Focus on SYSTEMS, not people. Kerry is just like Bush. Precisely like him. Kerry is not the answer. No democrat is. They are children playing a game.

I admire your spirit gringo 24.Jul.2004 02:54

As always, but

"Forget personalities and focus on ISSUES. It is the only way to defeat this oppressive regime. Focus on SYSTEMS, not people. Kerry is just like Bush. Precisely like him. Kerry is not the answer. No democrat is. They are children playing a game."

You know what I think looks more like a game? Playing with politics that ain't never gonna happen, and playing the Socialist so far to the hilt it's like you have a wind-up key in your back, Gringo. Seems easy to idealize when you belong to a party that can't even get its foot in the door to disappoint you with its realities.

You're gonna make me afraid if I become a Socialist I'm gonna lose the ability to distinguish the lesser of two evils, Gringo, or the ability to judge people by the content of their character instead of the letter after their name.

It's sad, really. When I first came here, we were ready to stash our dissidence behind our couch so we didn't get dragged away somewhere for sedition. Our neighbors, or anyone we ran into at all, wouldn't harbor the slightest criticism of Bush or the slightest tolerance for anyone who did, but here was a place where people would throw Operation Northwoods and PNAC on the table. I liked it, it made it okay to think what I wanted again. But of all the place in the world where people should know what Bush is, and what he &/or his puppetmasters likely have planned, I would have thought this would be it...

I rarely even come here any more, it's tedious to see all that insight into the Bush adminstration go to waste failing to connect to a clear course of action as simple and obvious as voting him out for whatever improvement it may bring. Always guaranteed I can find a robotic Gringo "Kerry is just as bad as Bush" post without any problem. You know, the funny thing is, when I was a Green, I never got indoctrinated with any obligatory knee-jerk idea that each and every Dem was just as bad as any Rethugs, just because neither was my own party. I don't know why it should happen to Socialists, go figure. But that's still the only impression it gives me, is that it's utterly mechanical.

You are a capitalist - that is why you get the government you deserve 24.Jul.2004 11:45


Then obviously you are a capitalist. You see no problem with capitalism, if you see a real difference between the two candidates. Kerry is demonstably worse on some issues than Bush is.

All a socialist is, is someone who wants a government that actually looks after its people, someone who recognizes that private ownership of capital inevitably leads to private ownership of the government. It's really that simple. Don't be afraid of the commie bogeyman.

Yes, my knee-jerk response to ignorance is quick. As long as people don't get it, I will continue saying it. Like a broken record player. I understand how power works, and I understand how the media works. And it is important to distinguish between media fantasies and reality.

As long as you vote for the lesser of two evils, which you claim is an important distinction, then you will never get what you want. You are shooting yourself in the foot.

And as long as you see character as a real component of two capitalist candidates, then you are being snowed precisely as planned. Individuals, even at the Presidential level, decide nothing. It is party politics at that level. Character is meaningless.

But since you are a capitalist, none of this matters. You have two candidates to choose from. They both uphold a system that inevitably leads to corporate ownership of government. That is the problem with capitalism: it's inevitable fascism (or corporatism, as fascism is often called).

You are being duped if you think Kerry is a lesser evil because he is not. On any real issue. Insight into the Bush administration is insight into the future Kerry administration.

Kerry supports the foreign policy agenda of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the Democrats' counterpart to the neoconservatives' Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In the fall of 2003, the hawkish PPI unveiled their nineteen-page manifesto, "Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy." The similarities between the two organization's views is underscored by the fact that six Democrats, including a member of the PPI, were among the twenty-three people who signed PNAC's March 19, 2003, letter to the Bush administration on post-war Iraq advocating a long occupation. The people that Kerry has selected for his foreign policy team could stand toe to toe with any of the Bush hawks. Kerry's team includes Richard Morningstar and Rand Beers. Morningstar, a former Clinton adviser, pushed for the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that opens up access to oil in the Caspian Sea. The Clinton administration recruited the likes of Dick Cheney and James Baker to lobby local governments to accept the construction of the pipeline.

You will be eating your words about the "lesser of two evils" as you hear more and more about the PPI. We've all heard ad nauseum about PNAC already. Now it's the Democrats turn for worldwide slaughter again. Don't worry: your lesser evil will win. Most of the ruling elite like him better and Republicans will vote for him.