Tuesday, March 09, 2010


You know, maybe the right-wingers have a point about the academy. Here, blogging for The New York Times, is Stanley Fish, one of America's best-known academics -- and take a gander at the careful research he's done to support his argument that a Bush revival is taking place in America (emphasis added):

I know you're not supposed to, but I just love to say I told you so.

What I told you back on Sept. 28, 2008, was that within a year of the day he left office George W. Bush would come to be regarded with affection and a little nostalgia....

Well it's a bit more than a year now and signs of Bush's rehabilitation are beginning to pop up. One is literally a sign, a billboard that appeared recently on I-35 in Minnesota. Occupying the right side (from the viewer's viewpoint) is a picture of Bush smiling genially and waving his hand in a friendly gesture. Occupying the left side is a simple and direct question: "Miss me yet?" The image is all over the Internet, hundreds of millions of hits, and unscientific Web-based polls indicate that more do miss him than don't....

Wow -- people clicked on the image, so every single one of them (including me) must agree with it! And polls confirm Fish's belief -- "unscientific Web-based polls"! Hey, that's all the proof I need! Q.E.D.!

In fact, a poll conducted by actual professionals -- the Opinion Dynamics firm, polling for Fox News -- shows that Bush's favorability was 11 points less in February 2010 than it was in January 2009 (and 3 points less than it was in October 2009). Yes, if you scroll down at that link (from Polling Report) you'll see a CNN poll that shows an uptick in Bush's favorability -- but it was conducted about a week after Bush and Bill Clinton teamed up for Haiti relief. And even in that poll, the favorable-unfavorable numbers were 43%-54%. (In the Fox poll they were 38%-55%.)

Hell, even Newsmax, or at least respondents in a Zogby poll conducted for Newsmax, rank Barack Obama far ahead of Bush on the question of which living president "is best equipped to deal with the problems the country faces today." Obama also beats Bush by 10 points in an imagined presidential matchup.

Fish seems to have overlooked the fact that there were always Bush enthusiasts, and, well, they're still out there. Bush's approval numbers during his presidency were low, but they never went to 0%. Even a distinct minority of the country can be a hell of a lot of people. And it only takes one person to get a damn billboard put up.

Fish concludes:

And the judgment of history? Well, I'm not that foolish, but I will venture to say that it will be more nuanced than anything the professional Bush-haters -- indistinguishable in temperament from the professional Obama-haters -- are now able to imagine. He will not go to the top of the list, but neither will he be the figure of fun and derision he seemed destined to be only a year ago. You heard it here.

I love that "indistinguishable" part. It's almost as if there's no right and wrong in being president, no degrees of incompetence or of reckless endangerment of the Republic -- there's only the subjective response of the public. The Iraq War wasn't wrong, the treasury-bleeding tax cuts for the rich weren't wrong, the neglect of financial regulation that led to mass global unemployment wasn't wrong, the contempt for Katrina victims wasn't wrong. It's all just a matter of how we feel, and those of us who feel angry or outraged at what happened from 2001 to 2009 just have bad "temperaments," indistinguishable from the bad "temperaments" of mass-delusion cases who think Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Marxist who is destroying the country deliberately.

In the right-wing stereotype, that's precisely the way a modern academic would think -- that, for presidents, there's simply no right or wrong because, well, there's simply no right or wrong. I don't think that's Fish's point -- I think he's trying to be "politically incorrect" by embracing the same right-centrist dozens of other media bloviators embrace -- but the effect is the same.

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