Bush: Visionary or Impostor?

     Back when George Herbert Walker Bush was president, 
his political clumsiness led me to remark on his 
propensity for errors beyond the merely ordinary mistakes 
we all make. I said he made "heat-seeking blunders."

     Little did I dream that his son -- who was then a 
cloud no bigger than a man's hand -- would one day 
surpass him. President George W. Bush is the master of 
the real doozy, the truly incredible gaffe, the goof that 
keeps on goofing, exploding like fireworks into thousands 
of little mini-goofs. The Iraq war comes to mind, and the 
Medicare prescription drug plan, both of which will 
plague generations to come.

     Yet the younger Bush is not one to admit a mistake, 
however egregious. This is a man who doesn't know the 
meaning of the word "Oops!" Not only does he appear out 
of touch with reality; at times I wonder if he even has a 
firm grip on fantasy.

     The latest spinoff of the Iraq war is a plan to let 
Arab companies control American seaports when the United 
States is facing fanatical hatred in the Arab world. 
Personally, I wouldn't worry about it, but I understand 
why it sounds like a dubious idea to many Americans and 
to Republicans facing elections this year.

     I also understand why the Democrats are making the 
most of the furor. So Bush is now being bitten by the 
very war hysteria he himself has whipped up.

     Nevertheless, President Bush is a stubborn man, and 
he isn't backing down. After five years of vetoing 
absolutely nothing, he is threatening to veto any act of 
Congress quashing the deal.

     Two new books by conservatives bring the Bush 
problem into focus, if only by their diametrically 
opposed views of him. One is adoring; the other, damning.

     The adoring one is REBEL-IN-CHIEF, by Fred Barnes, 
neoconservative executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, 
who basically takes the view, no longer widely shared, 
that Bush can do no wrong. The "visionary" president has 
succeeded in "redefining the right" with his philosophy 
of "strong-government conservatism."

     Bush's great achievements, according to Barnes, 
include these: "He has thwarted terrorism, changed parts 
of the world forever, dominated Congress, curtailed 
federalism, won fundamental reforms, and treated critics 
as a nuisance -- all of it made possible by a strong 
national government."

     A less enchanted view is offered by Bruce Bartlett 
BETRAYED THE REAGAN LEGACY. By conservative standards of 
limited government, Bartlett argues, Bush falls short not 
only of Reagan, but even of Bill Clinton.

     Naturally, the book has cost Bartlett his job. He 
has been fired by the National Center for Policy 
Analysis, a conservative think tank whose big donors 
resent his description of Bush as a "pretend 
conservative." As Shakespeare's Enobarbus says, "That 
truth should be silent I had almost forgot."

Do It to Julia!

     Winston Smith, the timid hero of George Orwell's 
great dystopian novel NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, has a 
particular dread of rats. At the climax of the story, his 
fiendish tormentors, knowing this, bind him and set rats 
to gnaw his face. It works even better than expected.

     Winston's character -- what little there is of it -- 
completely breaks down, and he screams, "Do it to Julia!" 
He is willing to betray his girlfriend to save himself. 
The book ends with the sentence: "He loved Big Brother."

     This "love" is all that is left of Winston. His 
cowardice has finally made him treacherous.

     I thought of Winston and the rats when I heard that 
Austria had convicted the historian David Irving of 
"Holocaust denial." In the end, Irving pleaded guilty and 
received a three-year sentence instead of the maximum 
ten. This was Austria's way of "doing it to Julia." 
Liberals show their "compassion" by spending other 
people's money; conservatives show their "courage" by 
sending other people to war; and now the Austrians have 
shown their remorse for Hitler by violating other 
people's freedom of speech.

     Walter Duranty and his newspaper, THE NEW YORK 
TIMES, reported that there was no famine in Ukraine, but 
that was while that famine was still going on -- which 
made them, in a real sense, active accomplices in 
Stalin's crimes; but Hitler and his henchmen are long 
gone, so even a defense of whatever they did, at this 
point, can't assist them.

     Of course a conscious lie is always immoral, even if 
the crime is long past; but should it be punishable by 

     In any case, that is not what Irving did. I know him 
pretty well, have read several of his books, and have 
never heard or read any words of his that "deny the 
Holocaust." Those who know him only by reputation would 
be surprised to learn that his many works about World 
War II deal with the subject only marginally, not 
obsessively. He is much more critical of Churchill than 
favorable to Hitler, and I gather he simply thinks 
Britain should have avoided a disastrous war with 

     If Irving has ever "denied the Holocaust," I think 
his enemies owe it to us to produce evidence from his 
voluminous writings. All they have is a guilty plea he 
has just made under duress, when threatened with ten 
years in prison at the age of 67! What kind of proof is 

     And exactly what is he supposed to have done? He was 
convicted for a speech he gave in Austria 17 years 
earlier, in the previous century. No violence or other 
palpable harm resulted from it. Even the prosecution 
didn't accuse him of urging his auditors to commit 
crimes, or to do anything to anyone. Any "crime" on his 
part was purely abstract, hard to specify.

     On his first day in prison, as he told a friend of 
his and mine, the murderers and rapists amongst whom he 
was confined were amazed to hear that he'd been convicted 
for expressing an opinion back in 1989.

     As Irving pointed out in court, he has never denied 
that the Nazis killed millions of people. But Austria, 
long stigmatized for supporting Hitler, has now convicted 
an Englishman on the bizarre charge of supporting Hitler 
posthumously! How virtuous. "Do it to Julia!"

     Orwell would love this. The Austrians have gotten 
the Hitler monkey off their back by putting it on 

     The tireless ideologues of Holocaust-guilt, let us 
remember, have also convicted the saintly Pius XII, 
"Hitler's Pope," of implicitly condoning race-murder. Any 
number can play this game.

     Eventually, if you accuse enough people, you wind up 
effectively exculpating the truly guilty. Sometimes the 
buck can be passed a little too far.

     Something to bear in mind in the age of the War on 
Terror, Homeland Security, and all that.

                 +          +          +                  

     "I wouldn't mind a cowboy president if he were like, 
say, Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON. But why did we have to get 
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