HOW THE LEFT SWIFTBOATED AMERICA: THE LIBERAL MEDIA CONSPIRACY TO MAKE YOU THINK GEORGE BUSH WAS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN HISTORY
By John Gibson
HARPER, $26.99, 290 pages
Reviewed by A.G. Gancarski
From Hurricane Katrina up through the Obama inauguration, the most insidious of poison memes was promulgated through not just far-left media outlets, but also through purportedly mainstream purveyors of news.
That concept: that two-term President George W. Bush, who many of the same purportedly centrist sources were proclaiming to be Man of the Year and one of the greatest presidents ever back when he was high in the polls, had somehow transmogrified into the most incompetent occupant of the executive branch ever.
Conventional wisdom circa the 2008 election held that the president had no electoral coattails. Both he and former Vice President Dick Cheney (one of the canniest politicians of this era) were seldom seen on the campaign trail, and Mr. Bush's hug of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain by way of endorsement was spun more like a curse than a blessing.
Mr. Bush was portrayed throughout the media as so toxic that many speculated that Mr. McCain would have been better off repudiating him than validating his legacy through pledging to carry on the Bush administration's many good works. Insofar as the "maverick" Mr. McCain distanced himself from the president, he distanced himself from the party apparatus, and his campaign ultimately was dispatched as easily as that of Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, by the disciplined and ruthlessly efficient Obama machine.
Fox News commentator John Gibson, in his most recent book, ably dispels the fabrications and fallacies the left put forth to successfully torpedo the Bush legacy. He defines "swiftboating" as "undermining character and credibility, no matter whether the charges are accurate," and accuses the left of trashing not only the president, but the Iraq war, the war on terror and conservatives at large. This effort was assisted by the president himself, characterized by Mr. Gibson as "woefully inadequate" in explaining and defending his own policies.
Written in the polemical style of his television commentaries, Mr. Gibson's book energetically attempts to rescue the Bush legacy from the spin machine. And on many fronts, his effort succeeds.
Mr. Gibson traces the beginning of the "swiftboating" operation to a time before the swift boat controversy itself - namely, the aftermath of the disputed 2000 election. Mr. Gibson marshals a multitude of sources who blithely characterize Mr. Bush as the unelected president, a fraud who "stole" the election even as he was purportedly too dumb to hold the office.
This portrayal of Mr. Bush as both evil and imbecilic has characterized the hard left's portrayals of the president since Sept. 11, 2001, and the Iraq war, eventually spreading like the swine flu to much of middle America as the president's popularity ratings crashed below 30 percent. Even some erstwhile supporters drank the Kool-Aid.
What Mr. Gibson describes as "the politics of partisan destruction" was, the author charges, slow death on the installment plan. This eight-year scheme was predicated on the notion that, even if the Bush legacy could not be invalidated by the 2004 election, it certainly could be by 2008. The left bet that it could carry the 2008 election by continuing to trash Mr. Bush, and as we all can see, they were right.
In the authorial reckoning, the left destroyed Mr. Bush by literally disassembling the persona. They portrayed him as an "irresponsible menace," whose duplicity was only exceeded by his inarticulateness.
The left employed "ridicule and repetition" in an effort to make the caricature real, and to that end worthies like former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich and the Daily Show's Jon Stewart rendered Bushian malapropisms into daggers aimed squarely at the president's heart.
Attempts at character assassination of the president are, of course, nothing new. But the petty and personal sendups of Mr. Bush proved that a primary tenet of American politics - reverence for the institution of the presidency - had become as disposable as last week's TV Guide.
Mr. Stewart, who once characterized President Harry S. Truman as a "war criminal," was instrumental in mainstreaming the anti-Bush sentiment of effete Manhattan socialites. Bush hatred, as depicted here, is a brand that folks like Mr. Stewart promote as aggressively as Tiger Woods does the Nike swoosh, and Mr. Gibson provides myriad examples of this phenomenon's promulgation.
Like Mr. Stewart, former sportscaster Keith Olbermann is rebuked for his repeated mischaracterizations of the Bush legacy, which include bizarre charges that the president was a "fascist." Mr. Olbermann's hard-left shtick was enabled, claims Mr. Gibson, by executives at MSNBC willing to try anything to reverse the network's failed financial fortunes.
Mr. Gibson intriguingly theorizes that the opportunistic Mr. Olbermann adopted an antiwar posture as a calculated gesture when his show's relentless attacks on Bill O'Reilly proved stale. The trip from sportscaster to propagandist ran smoothly; after all, both forms require a certain reductionism to hackneyed good versus evil tropes.
But the swiftboating of Mr. Bush, as Mr. Gibson sees it, show scant evidence of a real commitment to truth. Overblown scandals like the Valerie Plame affair expose more about the partisan proclivities of the journalism business than they did about the Bush administration.
Similarly, crude slogans like "Bush lied, people died" do little justice, in the author's eyes, to the complex reasons for finally invading Iraq and fighting to win. And the "echo chamber" sites like Daily Kos that promulgate them, as Mr. Gibson puts it, are simply part of the left-wing "noise machine." A sound and a fury, signifying something dire.
The destruction of the George Bush persona deliberately and effectively undercut his legacy. Nevertheless, despite documenting said destruction, and the demonstrated lack of effective counter for it from the last administration, Mr. Gibson closes his book on a hopeful note, predicting the day when "ordinary Americans" rise up against the "politics of distraction" and the "swiftboating lies of the left." We will see how that scenario plays out in upcoming elections in 2010 and beyond.
A.G. Gancarski writes from Jacksonville, Fla.