Gerson has parlayed his hoodwinking by then-Governor Bush in 1999 into a virtue and regular columnist job with the Washington Post. Gerson is every used-car salesman's dream customer, the wide-eyed rube who wants to believe, really really wants to believe, that the puttied-up gas guzzling sand-in-the-transmission junker sitting in the corner of the lot really is a beauty of a driving machine.
Stupidity, however, is not a virtue.
In his latest effort, Gerson tries to convince readers that Bush really is a "compassionate conservative," a term that Gerson feels hasn't gained much traction because it's a "cause without a constituency," although the better term for it is that it's an oxymoron. Conservatism thrives on mean-spirited, devil-take-the-hindmost policies that consign the poor (aka the "surplus population") to a Dickensian fate that they "deserve" because of personal choices and "not applying themselves." Compassion is not highly valued in circles where concern for the uninsured and unemployed is crowded out by witty remarks about their stockbrokers.
But Bush isn't one of those nasty conservatives, Gerson argues. He's a "big hearted man" who has been misunderstood:
Proposals such as No Child Left Behind, the AIDS and malaria initiatives, and the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would simply not have come from a traditional conservative politician. They became the agenda of a Republican administration precisely because of Bush's persistent, passionate advocacy. To put it bluntly, these would not have been the priorities of a Cheney administration.Sure, Gerson scores points by raising the spectre of a Cheney administration -- which it sort of has been, given this current VP's elevation of the role of the VP to unprecedented levels -- and that image alone was enough to send chills down my spine, with visions of Cheney eliminating his political opponents through a series of "hunting accidents. However, Gerson tries to bamboozle us with the same window-dressing that has apparently tricked him. No Child Left Behind as a "compassionate" program? Only if you consider that the solution to fixing failing schools is to take their funding away so they lose teaching positions, extracurricular activities, and such luxuries as art, music, libraries, and guidance counselors. It's about as compassionate as the physician who believes the best way to heal the sick patient is to take away the medicine.
Which of course brings us to the prescription drug program, which Gerson touts as stemming from Bush's "big heart" and concern for Medicare recipients. However, Bush's proposal came in the wake of repeated pressure from advocacy groups and growing media attention that the elderly were going to Canada for their drugs, so it's less a question of Bush's "big heart" than it is of Bush's desire to capture the elderly vote in the following year's election. However, a quick google search (using the terms "Bush," "medicare," and "prescription plan,"-- hardly prejudicial terms, I would say) struggles to reveal anyone writing positively about Bush's plan.
Oh, yeah, and then there's the "AIDS and malaria initiatives," the bulk of which was Bush's announcement of $15 billion over five years to target AIDS in developing nations. Activists complained at the time that Bush's initiative didn't really include any new money, though that point is debateable. However, it's a fact that Bush's program underfunded established programs to fight AIDS, with Bush preferring to set up his own bureaucracy to oversee the money and divert funds to conservative pet projects like "faith-based" anti-AIDS programs. So was Bush's program really a "compassionate" move or an indirect payoff to his friends in the pharmaceutical lobby? Perhaps that question could be answered by looking to the man he hired to head the program, Randall Tobias, former chief executive of Eli Lilly. Hmm. And of course, it comes with a heavy dose of "blame the victim" by stressing "abstinence only" in its education initiatives.
Gerson of course ignores Bush's great humanitarian catastrophes: the poor management and callous attitude toward Hurricane Katrina survivors domestically and the international disgrace that is his prosecution of an illegal war of aggression in Iraq. But Gerson doesn't let little things like the destruction of a country's infrastructure and massive civilian deaths, not to mention the draining of the national treasury and the loss of American soldiers, get in the way of his touting Bush the humanitarian.
Just how blinded Gerson is by Bush can be seen by the way he opens his essay:
When President Bush took his final walk to the rostrum of the House chamber, his speech and manner conveyed little nostalgia. He views both meditation on the past and speculation about his legacy with equal suspicion, preferring to live in the urgency of the now. So his last State of the Union address had no Reagan-like, misty-eyed wistfulness. It was the most matter-of-fact of his congressional addresses: a clear theme -- trusting the people -- developed at a brisk pace, with modest proposals and an edge of impatience at congressional loitering. He seemed to be saying: "With a year to go, sentiment be damned."
Actually, Michael, it isn't that he views "meditation on the past" with suspicion; it's because he's the perfect example of Bertrand Russell's maxim that the "unexamined life is not worth living." Or perhaps Cicero's warning that those who don't know the past are doomed to repeat it.
Then again, stupidity is no virtue.