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Friday, August 20, 2004

But the problem is that Bush does act like a child

Dahlia Lithwick's editorial today is well-meaning but just all wrong. She instructs liberals to at least pretend the Shrub isn't infantile in his thinking and doesn't act like a spoiled baby prince. The ugly truth of the matter is that Bush does act like a petulant child and he is used to lull his voters into childish thinking themselves.

One of the most enduring memories from the Bush-Gore debates in 2000 was Al Gore, all sighs and eye-rolls, trapped in what must have felt like the middle-school playground fight from hell instead of a presidential debate. Everything about Mr. Gore's demeanor signaled that he felt he was giving a punk kid a much-needed scolding. Which missed the point: a lot of very smart people voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 because to them, he represented a return to honesty and morality. Dismissing him as a stupid child, and these voters as stupid-children-by-association, is no way to win them back.

Fair enough, I guess, but that doesn't mean that we should pretend that his babyish statements are anything but. One of the reasons that people think that liberals are disingenous is good-faith efforts to treat conservatives who are spouting fantastical rhetoric with respect come off as phony.

Furthermore, the campaign to cast Mr. Bush as a bumbling child ignores the very grown-up machine that stands behind him. Infantilizing the president shifts the focus away from the Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Ashcrofts and Wolfowitzes.

That's obviously untrue. That the President acts and thinks like a child is just more evidence that he's being led by his staff, not the other way around.

Finally, there is a psychological consequence to labeling the president an incurious frat boy. With each attempt to cast Mr. Bush as a baby, we craft excuses for his childish behaviors. If Mr. Bush misled us into a war in Iraq, it's because children have trouble telling the truth.

So what? This isn't about him--this is about the voters. Regardless of his reasons for lying, the voters need to know that's what he's doing so that they can vote him out. I sometimes wonder what some people are thinking when they're voting, but I find it highly improbable that many people are going to say, "Well, I wasn't going to vote for him because he's a liar, but now that I know he did it to get his way and has an impulse-control problem, well, I'm happy to vote for him now." Doubtful. But weirdly people are open to being lied to if they think it's coming from a "grown-up" who has their best interests at heart. Think of the hero worship of Ollie North for a quick psychological lesson.

The ugly truth is that the right has been mocking, deriding and infantilizing Democrats for a long time now, and it's been working. Tossing a few of those bombs back into their own camp is bound to create confusion. If nothing else, it will derail Rove's pathetic attempts to cast Bush as the Alpha Male and leave their campaign scattershot. The left was able to wreck Dan Quayle's Oval Office dreams by mocking his intelligence. It's an ugly strategy, but I don't think you can argue that it's ineffective.

12 Comments:

Blogger Earnest said...

The right isn't above resorting to name-calling and appealing to voters' worst instincts by caricaturing their opponents, but infantilizing them? I can't think of any example (which isn't to say that there aren't any). The right is fond of calling their opponents "wafflers" or "flip-floppers." The left, on the other hand, isn't above painting their opponents as immature children. Need I point out Dan Quayle? The right feel compelled to point out their moral superiority to the left, but the left are extremely fond of thinking themselves smarter than the right. I think, though, that more often than not, the reality is that neither is superior in their category. What does it benefit a Democrat to feel that he or she is smarter than the President? I guess it's a salve for the wound of having narrowly lost an election, but other than that, it seems like pointless arrogance.

8/20/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

It's true that they don't single out specific leaders to be infantilized so much as their rhetorical strategy is to infantilize all liberal ideas by claiming to be on the side of "morality" and "responsibility" and acting as if they are the only ones who understand that childish ordinary people need to be under the firm control of they who know better.

8/20/2004

 
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