Friday, May 28, 2004

Move over, NASCAR. Out of the way, major league baseball, horseracing or gambling. For bashing President Bush now takes its place as America’s No. 1 national pastime.

Sure, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said the president deceived the American people about why America led a coalition in invading Iraq: “Week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.”

And yes, House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called Mr. Bush “incompetent.” “Bush is an incompetent leader,” said Mrs. Pelosi. “In fact, he’s not a leader. He’s a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon.”

And Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, called non-military-serving supporters of the president’s Iraq policy “chicken hawks.” “We know who the chicken hawks are,” said Mr. Lautenberg. “They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersions on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? AWOL — that’s where they were…. The lead chicken hawk against Sen. Kerry is the vice president of the United States — Vice President Cheney. He was in Missouri this week claiming that Sen. Kerry was not up to the job of protecting this nation. What nerve. Where was Dick Cheney when that war was going on?”

No, I’m talking about just regular folks who feel no reluctance to trash the president in private, social settings. They either don’t fear — or don’t care — whether other people disagree. These anti-Bush remarks take place in homes, at work or other places where people previously have refrained from introducing politics or religion lest they offend. Now, the gloves are off.

“Bush reminds me of a little monkey — he just never listens,” said my friend’s doctor, who, after conducting a checkup, offered this analysis of President George W. Bush. At a small house party a couple of weeks ago, one of the guests said over coffee, “That clown, Bush, has to go.”

I had my house painted recently. One of the painters informed another that I host a current events radio talk show. “Really?” said the painter. “So what do you think about our idiot president?”

Sam, a young college student and a friend of mine, was at a fellow student’s home. Sam was introduced to some people visiting the student’s mother. For some reason, one of them asked Sam whether he was a conservative. He said yes. Said one person to whom he was just introduced, “So, you like Bush?” Sam said, “Yes, I do.” To which the person responded while walking away, “Well, I can’t even talk to you.”

A friend took her grandparents to a nice dinner to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Someone at a nearby table made a loud, disparaging remark about President Bush. The waiter messed up that table’s order, prompting one guest to say loudly to the waiter, “I guess I can’t blame you for being confused. You’re probably a Bush-voter.”

When discussing religion or politics with strangers, conventional social etiquette compels one to tread gently and cautiously when raising such topics with strangers.

But Bush-haters appear perfectly willing to batter the president regardless of whether anybody might be offended. Or they do so assuming anybody with a brain surely must agree. Or they couldn’t care less whether they offend someone.

I heard of a local high school teacher who, in class, likened George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. A friend’s hairdresser loudly and blithely informs all who listen that Mr. Bush “created Osama bin Laden.” A nearby florist wrinkled his face as if a skunk had waddled by, and called the Iraq war “Bush’s war.”

Why do the “decent, tolerant and open-minded” people throw social caution to the wind while denouncing President Bush? Call this the Pauline Kael syndrome. The former New Yorker film critic once made a remark that captures this I-hate-the-president-and-any-sane-person-agrees-with-me mentality. In the 1972 presidential race, Richard Nixon destroyed George McGovern, winning every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The results surprised and stunned Miss Kael, who said, “Nobody I know voted for Nixon.”

Social Bush-bashers depend on something they feel Bush supporters lack: civility. Mature people avoid making others uncomfortable or disputing politics in social settings. They avoid unnecessarily offending people they don’t know and don’t assume the world is in lockstep with their views.

Mr. Bush’s critics call the president “arrogant.” But there’s a special type of arrogance that assumes any fair and open-minded person must think as I do.

What about you? Have you bitten your tongue while somebody you just met demeans the president by calling him a moron, evil or reminiscent of Hitler? How many times have you fought back the urge to defend the president against unfair, hysterical, emotional, nonsensical and childish “Bush-makes-me-feel-ashamed-to-be-an-American” type remarks?

Write me. I’m collecting stories.

Larry Elder is a lawyer, nationally syndicated columnist, radio talk-show host and author of “Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies, and the Special Interests That Divide America” (St. Martin’s Press, 2002).

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