Recently, Bush reaped a whirlwind of ridicule for offering a backrub to Germany’s head of state, Angela Merkel, at the G8 summit. The Chancellor recoiled, looking totally skeezed-out. Dubbed "Liebes-Attacke auf Merkel!" it was flashed around the world via internet. Bloggers went for W’s jugular. According to Alison Stewart of MSNBC's “The Most,” search terms that would return the YouTube video of the “event” were “grope” and “creepy.” One blogger referred to Bush as “commander-in-creep.” The Huffington Post crowned him our latest “lounge-lizard in chief.”
The gibes proved too much for rabid fans of the imperial presidency, arousing the ire of natterers and hacks on the right, who pointed to the popularity of the video as proof positive of widespread “Bush-hating” in the media, and among out-of-touch leftwing blogger-haters. Conservative columnist Joan Vennochi labeled one blogger’s characterization of the backrub as "inappropriate and unrequested" an "extreme level of Bush-bashing,” and went on to remind us that Bush’s predecessor had done much worse. Curiously absent from the right’s outrage over the latest wave of “Bush-bashing” was any mention of the right’s continued no-holds-barred hatred of the Clintons, which actually precipitated a constitutional crisis.
But Bill and Hillary-haters aren’t unreasonable at all, according to the Ann Coulter-Rush Limbaugh logic of the rabid right, because Bill and Hillary are obviously eminently odious. W. clearly is not. Only crazies could see it otherwise. There is actually a lively debate on the left over whether or not Bush is, in fact, hateworthy. The judgment hinges on the same issue that makes the difference between a “guilty” verdict and “innocent by reason of insanity.” If the famously jocular Mr. Bush means well, and doesn’t know any better, how can he be blamed for his actions, personal or political?
The right clearly feels that as an awe-shucks all-around good guy, Mr. Bush is innocent by reason of cluelessness. Were he to be chided for, say, launching a “nucular” attack on Iran, a simple “oops, my bad” would suffice to exonerate him. His defenders have always used his lack of polish as their chief defense of inappropriate behavior, and characterized critics as haters who have no scruples about attacking the differently-abled. And criticism invariably prompts lectures about civil discourse. The irony is that they’re coming from members of the party dedicated to destroying the foundations of civil society: public education, public spaces, public TV. I, myself, don’t feel that Mr. Bush is hateworthy, but as a symbol of a hateful ideology and a host of hatable policies, I can understand how some might confuse the man for what he stands for.