Sunday, December 03, 2006

Eric Foner, Michael Lind, David Greenberg, Douglas Brinkley, and Vincent Cannato have op-eds in today's Washington Post on the question of whether George W. Bush is the worst president ever. (The verdicts are, respectively: worst, fifth-worst, not as bad as Nixon, pretty bad, and not great so far but time will tell. I think W. can forget that fifth-face-on-Rushmore thing.)

I don't have much to say about the overall arguments -- I don't care if you think he's the worst ever, as long as you as you acknowledge that he's awful -- but I do want to comment on a point David Greenberg makes while comparing Bush with Nixon:

But can we conclude that Bush's war policy is worse than Nixon's? However toxic the fallout from Iraq, it's hard to imagine that it could greatly exceed the damage wrought by Vietnam, the wounds from which are still raw 30 years later, as its role in the 2004 presidential election showed.

I don't buy that -- I don't buy the notion that Vietnam's "wounds ... are still raw" and that we saw evidence of that in 2004.

It seems clear that the vast majority of voters in America have voted for a presidential candidate who avoided service in Vietnam at least once (probably twice) in the last four presidential elections -- and, by doing so, voted against a war veteran (a combat veteran in all but one instance). A large number of voters who chose Clinton loathe Bush, and vice versa. Is the war the key factor?

I don't think so. Vietnam is part of the big split in America, but it's just a part. The split is between those who unquestionably defend all of the following and those who express skepticism about all, some, or even just one of them: America's projection of power in the world, capitalism; traditional mores regarding sex and expression; conservative Christian religious beliefs; and the right to keep and bear arms.

If you have "liberal" views on any of these issues, the conservatives consider you a mortal enemy and a "liberal" on all of them. Thus, straight arrows such as John Murtha, James Webb, and Jon Tester become dirty hippies, in the eyes of right-wingers, because they express skepticism about some of the items on the sacrosanct list.

That's the split. Vietnam is just a symptom. The culture war is the disease.

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