It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
That’s John Hinderaker from the big American conservative blog Powerline in July 2005 (not surprisingly, that particular archive seems to have vanished). The blogosphere encourages hyperbole but even so Hinderaker’s breathless insistence on W’s underappreciated genius wasn’t a million miles from the mainstream Right’s view, even in 2005.
Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion (the statue falling and all that) it even became, for a time, the common wisdom of the media: here was a decisive, determined president who had faced down his elitist critics and prevailed. The ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment, when Bush rescheduled an aircraft carrier so he could land a fighter pilot on it, whipped some of the more excitable commentators into an almost sexual frenzy. Consider this astonishing transcript from the Chris Mathews show:
MATTHEWS: Let’s go to this sub–what happened to this week, which was to me was astounding as a student of politics, like all of us. Lights, camera, action. This week the president landed the best photo op in a very long time. Other great visuals: Ronald Reagan at the D-Day cemetery in Normandy, Bill Clinton on horseback in Wyoming. Nothing compared to this, I’ve got to say.
Katty, for visual, the president of the United States arriving in an F-18, looking like he flew it in himself. The GIs, the women on–onboard that ship loved this guy.
Ms. KAY: He looked great. Look, I’m not a Bush man. I mean, he doesn’t do it for me personally, especially not when he’s in a suit, but he arrived there…
MATTHEWS: No one would call you a Bush man, by the way.
Ms. KAY: …he arrived there in his flight suit, in a jumpsuit. He should wear that all the time. Why doesn’t he do all his campaign speeches in that jumpsuit? He just looks so great.
MATTHEWS: I want him to wa–I want to see him debate somebody like John Kerry or Lieberman or somebody wearing that jumpsuit.
Later, in a dialogue with the convicted Watergate felon Gordon Liddy (who said there were no second acts in American lives?), Mathews returned to the topic:
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this broadside against the USS Abraham Lincoln and its chief visitor last week?
LIDDY: Well, I-in the first place, I think it’s envy. I mean, after all, Al Gore had to go get some woman to tell him how to be a man [Official Naomi Wolf Spin-Point]. And here comes George Bush. You know, he’s in his flight suit, he’s striding across the deck, and he’s wearing his parachute harness, you know-and I’ve worn those because I parachute-and it makes the best of his manly characteristic. You go run those, run that stuff again of him walking across there with the parachute. He has just won every woman’s vote in the United States of America. You know, all those women who say size doesn’t count-they’re all liars. Check that out. I hope the Democrats keep ratting on him and all of this stuff so that they keep showing that tape.
Yes, that’s right. Not content with the phallic significance of the aircraft carrier and the fighter plane, they actually came out and said it: our president has a big penis!
It must have been around this time that a band calling themselves the Right Brothers released their anthem ‘Bush was Right’, a tune entirely as atrocious as one might expect. Come on everyone, you know this one!
Later, of course, a certain plaintive note crept into the hosannas of the faithful. After Katrina, after Abu Ghraib, and, in particular, as the full catastrophe of Iraq revealed itself, we still heard that Bush was a genius – but, somehow, he couldn’t get the love he deserved. Everything the Leader did was correct but the dastardly machinations of the liberal media rendered the ordinary punters temporarily blind to his sagacity. This – what we might call the ‘Hinderaker thesis’ – became the stock in trade of the Australian from about 2005.
Thus Greg Sheridan in September 2006:
Let me be the first to offer a bold, revisionist view. George W. Bush may well be judged, ultimately, a great president, especially in foreign policy, especially in the war on terror. This consensus won’t form for 20 or perhaps 30 years.
The phrasing was, of course, deliberately dishonest. It wasn’t a revisionist view so much as a consensus among the US conservatives from whom Sheridan cribs his ideas and Greg wasn’t the first to offer it (for the same reason).
Anyway, it’s pleasing to note that the Oz today has someone called Andrew Roberts running exactly the same line: Bush’s fine record as president has been smeared by the ‘knee-jerk loathing of the American and European elites’. Roberts doesn’t quite dub Bush an unappreciated Mozart or Picasso and he makes no assessment about the Presidential phallus but he does still manage to go deep into Hinderaker territory.
It’s an article that the Left should cherish. The one satisfaction to be taken from the last decade lies in how completely the most cherished ideas of the Right have demonstrated their bankruptcy, in what, to use the jargon of the day, we might call a full-spectrum failure. The process went far beyond George Bush (almost every Western leader extolled, for instance, the miraculous powers of the free market: how’s that working for you right now?) but Bush serves as well as anyone as the personification of that era – a kind of Louis XVI of the early twenty-first century.
The smarter conservatives are thus trying to tiptoe away from the wreckage of the Bush years, to put some distance between themselves and the catastrophes their ideas have wrought. But not the Oz. No, it persists with a bloody-minded defence of all the Right’s lost causes, like those Japanese soldiers they used to find lost in the jungles, still fighting the Second World War fifty years after everyone else gave up.
If the Oz didn’t exist, the Left would have to invent it. It reminds everyone, day in and day out, of what the hard Right represents. The Iraq War. Climate change denial. And President Bush as a genius.