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Dubya Disease

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It's getting hard to poke fun at President Bush. As his approval ratings have plummeted, the frequency of Bush's malapropisms, hyperboles, and outright lies has increased; as has his propensity for gauche behavior and buffoonery. It's become clear that he's contracted incurable Dubya disease.

Many of us who never supported Bush – who thought he stole the 2000 election and proceeded to fulfill our worst expectations – dismiss him as a fool and rejoice in the prospect that his disease is dragging the Republican Party down with him. However, there are two vexing problems with this perspective: one is that Bush has twenty more months left in the Oval Office and, therefore, can still do lots of damage – launch a nuclear attack on Iran, for example. The second problem is that when Liberals attack Bush, they alienate the third of the electorate who believe the office of the President deserves respect, even if the occupant may not; these are the same Americans who Liberals want as allies on issues such as Global Climate Change.

In order to reach out to all Americans, Liberals must look beyond Dubya's behavior and overcome the reality that Bush is the most polarizing President since Richard Nixon. While it's a good thing to have political debate, it's unhealthy to have the degree of acrimony and incivility that we current experience in American politics. One way to overcome this antagonism is to look at the elements of the American psyche that produced George Bush, get in touch with the "inner Dubya" of the American political system, and view Bush not as the problem but rather as a symptom of a larger dysfunction – Dubya disease.

There are three trends in American politics that produced the Bush Presidency; tendencies that did not originate with Dubya, but were accentuated by this Presidency over the past six-plus years. One is the propensity to lie, to tell outright falsehoods in order to achieve political ends. While lying had long been a characteristic of most American political campaigns, it was the dominant feature of George W. Bush's candidacy: Bush wasn't a successful CEO or an effective Texas governor, as he claimed to be; he wasn't a compassionate conservative or a committed environmentalist; and certainly wasn't "a uniter" or a leader who would "usher in a new era of responsibility." Since his background was fabricated, it's not surprising that the dominant feature of the Bush Presidency has been prevarication: the White House lied about the danger posed by Saddam Hussein; about the probable effects of massive tax cuts for the rich on the standard of living of average Americans; about their concern for the health and safety of our military; and about the dangers posed by global climate change. They've lied about everything.

However, It's too easy to say that the way to turnaround American politics is for politicians to stop lying. That's true, but it ignores the fact that political prevarication is a part of a more systemic problem: willingness of Americans to do anything to win. That's the second trend in American politics: the dominance of capitalist ethics over those of a deeper morality that honors the golden rule. It's ironic that American society has come to be characterized by a morality where the ends justify the means, because that's the moral failing we've historically accused our enemies of; during the Cold War, Americans pontificated that Communists were evil because they believed the ends justified the means; now, as we combat global terrorism, we're told the same thing – terrorists are bad because they believe the ends justify the means. Yet, the clear ethical footprint of the Bush Administration has been their willingness to place their own interests above the common good.

The third trend has been to place political gain above the welfare of the US: to use the office of the President primarily for political purposes. Recently, there's been a lot of talk about the machinations of White House insiders – Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, among others: manipulating the press by leaking Valerie Plame Wilson's job at the CIA or firing US attorneys because they weren't pursuing the Bush political agenda aggressively enough. The truth is that this Administration has been inordinately political since they took office: one of the reasons that the war on Iraq was initiated in 2002 was the Bush Administration belief that they could use it to Republican advantage in the mid-term Congressional elections. The hallmark of the Bush Administration has been their willingness to make everything political: Karl Rove was both Bush's campaign manager and senior policy adviser to ensure that politics colored every move Bush made.

It's easy to make fun of Dubya, to dismiss him as a fool. It's much harder to admit that the 43rd President is a symptom of a moral cancer that resides deep within the American political system. Only when Americans address this, only when we do something about the root causes of "Dubya disease," will we feel safe that no George Bush clone will ever again become President.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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