On the day I found out that even Bridge players had been driven up the wall by this president, I read my friend Peter Berkowitz’s lament that outrage at the current executive is ruining our capacity to think straight. It may be, but that doesn’t mean the anger is not justified. There is a combination of recklessness and arrogance in the current White House, and a contempt for the traditional norms of democratic behavior, that understandably puts people over the edge. Perhaps on any single incident, you could give them a pass. But when you look at the entire picture, I don’t think "insane" is in any way a fair way to describe Bush’s opponents.
Take the knife-edge post-election drama and the politicization of the war in Iraq. Yes, Gore bears a lot of responsibility for the former. But what does it say about a president’s respect for the country that he interprets an historic loss in the popular vote as a mandate as validating as 49 states? Or that in wartime, he would simply refuse to bring in the opposing party and the Congress to devise better laws of warfare for Jihadist terror? Or that he would violate basic American values in authorizing torture, upending Geneva, and destroying America’s moral standing – and keep on insisting that he has every right to do so, and refusing to acknowledge the authority of the Congress in these matters by reneging on the torture ban with a signing statement effectively voiding it?
And lord knows the Bush administration has blundered in its handling of legal issues that have arisen in the war on terror. But from the common progressive denunciations you would never know that the Bush administration has rejected torture as illegal. And you could easily overlook that in our system of government the executive branch, which has principal responsibility for defending the nation, is in wartime bound to overreach–especially when it confronts on a daily basis intelligence reports that describe terrifying threats–but that when checked by the Supreme Court the Bush administration has, in accordance with the system, promptly complied with the law.
That’s it? Peter’s defense is that the administration reinvented the meaning of a word to justify its use of illegal interrogation techniques. That’s a defense? We are now supposed to be grateful that, at least, the administration pretends it doesn’t torture, and hasn’t pulled a Musharraf and rebelled against the Supreme Court? What next? Are we going to infer that the lack of martial law shows how hysterical Bush-hatred has become?
Hatred is a strong word and a clouding emotion. But sustained outrage isn’t. One can forgive any president for mistakes – even catastrophic mistakes, as in the intelligence for and execution of the Iraq war. But to have trashed the constitution’s balance, violated core values of due process and decency, polluted our intelligence in ways that deeply undermine national security, and deliberately divided a country for partisan advantage in wartime – these are not mere mistakes. And anger is not an irrational, let alone, insane response.