The Thin Line Between Liking and Slamming the President
Lanny Davis, the special counsel during the Clinton administration, has an enjoyable op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. It’s cast as an appreciation of George W. Bush, “a sincere and kind man and a good friend” from Yale. But the fond memories of their college days have the effect of magnifying his (arguably) fatal flaws as president. Note this story:
But despite what you may have heard or read, George was not just frat-house party boy. One of my most vivid memories is this: A few of us were in the common room one night. It was 1965, I believe Ã¢€” my junior year, his sophomore. We were making our usual sarcastic commentaries on those who walked by us. A little nasty perhaps, but always with a touch of humor. On this occasion, however, someone we all believed to be gay walked by, although the word we used in those days was “queer.” Someone, I’m sorry to say, snidely used that word as he walked by.
George heard it and, most uncharacteristically, snapped: “Shut up.” Then he said, in words I can remember almost verbatim: “Why don’t you try walking in his shoes for a while and see how it feels before you make a comment like that?”
Remember, this was the 1960s Ã¢€” pre-Stonewall, before gay rights became a cause many of us (especially male college students) had thought much about. I remember thinking, “This guy is much deeper than I realized.”
In light of that memory, I wondered last year why Bush chose to exploit the gay marriage issue in his campaign. I’m still not sure, but I think that’s what politics sometimes does to a person. Now he appears to be backing off, and I am not surprised. I hope it suggests a return to the “compassionate conservatism” I remember and that he practiced in his two terms as governor of Texas.
That’s a very clever — and powerful — criticism, isn’t it? It plays into conservative portrayals of Bush as a genuinely decent human being, then casually notes that power may have intoxicated him. The message is betrayal, both personal and political. “You broke my heart,” Davis suggests,” you broke my heart!”
Of course, what Davis overlooks is that good people can reasonably disagree on controversial issues, and personal feelings alone form insufficient bases for policy stances. But he sure knows a thing or two about rhetoric and persuasion. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t rubbed off much on his more acerbic partisan brethren.
Update: Commenter Kent makes a noteworthy distinction between “tolerance and advocacy.”