NYT columnist peddles ‘post-modern illusions’ and ‘propaganda’ to varnish Bush legacy

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, March 9, 2010 20:27 EDT
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Stanley Fish, author of The New York Times‘ “Opinionator” column, must have a soft spot for George W. Bush. In a recent piece, he employs just about every argument one could make to varnish the Bush legacy, fishing for proof in what one writer called “post-modern illusions” and citing a recent Newsweek cover that was derided as “propaganda.”

In reality, few miss George W. Bush, who left office as one of the least popular American presidents in history. Fish knows this too: he took a sampling of comments left on his prior shot at shining up the Bush legacy. Almost all of the readers thought he was nuts. One even asked, “Are you mad?”

He said roughly 10 in 300 viewed the former Republican administration favorably. Yet, paragraphs later Fish claims without a scintilla of evidence, “unscientific Web-based polls indicate that more do miss him than don’t.”

His proof: the March 8, 2010 cover of Newsweek, which proclaims “Victory At Last” in Iraq. The image upon which the offending texts rests is that of Bush, striding off-frame, aboard the aircraft carrier that hosted his infamous “Mission Accomplished” event in 2003.

And this, from the magazine that once argued the United States could have won the Vietnam war, if only President Lyndon Johnson had committed more soldiers and more resources sooner.

It was enough to make True/Slant writer Michael Hastings wish for a Taser.

“My first reaction was to grab the nearest taser, jam it down my throat, pull the trigger, and hope that my bodily fluids would conduct the 10,000 volts of electricity to instantly fry my brain so I wouldn’t have to read the accompanying story,” he wrote. “Sadly, I couldn’t find a taser.”

Instead, he goes on to lash Newsweek for such a “blatant piece of propaganda.”

“It’s the word victory that I take issue with,” Hastings opined. “What, exactly, did we win again? The editors didn’t even have the decency to use the old news magazine trick of ending any wannabe provocative headline with a question mark. (Which would have looked like this:VICTORY AT LAST?)”

“Bush’s policies came to seem less obviously reprehensible as the Obama administration drifted into embracing watered-down versions of many of them,” Fish wrote. “Guantanamo hasn’t been closed. No Child Left Behind is being revised and perhaps improved, but not repealed. The banks are still engaging in their bad practices. Partisanship is worse than ever. Obama seems about to back away from the decision to try 9/11 defendants in civilian courts, a prospect that led the ACLU to run an ad in Sunday’s Times with the subheading ‘Change or more of the same?’ Above that question is a series of photographs that shows Obama morphing into guess who — yes, that’s right, George W. Bush.”

This somehow puts the Bush legacy in a better light, according to Fish. Then again, the same columnist once argued that President Richard Nixon made his way “back from disgrace” by “being smarter than everyone else,” and claimed in the same breath that Ronald Reagan’s legacy “didn’t need rehabilitation.”

Nixon resigned in disgrace as Congress warily eyed impeachment proceedings over his numerous scandals, including spying on political opponents. Nixon also bears the dubious honor of dramatically escalating the drug war and using the FBI to do his political dirty work. He, like Bush, is one of the most hated presidents in U.S. history; “a crook,” by his own denial.

“However historians will assess Reagan’s responsibility, the record is what it is,” Slate reported in 2004. Gathering dust in the news archives are thousands of clippings about the gross influence peddling, bribery, fraud, illegal lobbying and sundry abuses that engulfed the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon, to name a few of the most notorious cases.”

Not to mention the Iran-Contra affair. A total of 138 Reagan officials were convicted, indicted or investigated during and after the administration’s two terms.

At his lowest point, President Bush’s approval rating was just 20 percent — the worst rating of any U.S. president in the history of the Gallup polling organization.

“My three cents,” began Andrew Sullivan, blogging for The Atlantic. “[No] president in the twentieth century did as much damage to this country as Bush: in terms of unfathomable debt, unwinnable wars, political cynicism, the dangerous fusion of politics and religion, the integration of torture into the DNA of America, the squandering of American soft and hard power, the lost years on non-carbon energy, the trashing of constitutional balance, and the immiseration of most ordinary Americans, he was a disaster. The only way in which Fish is correct is that the damage was so deep and so intractable that Obama, perforce, cannot undo it overnight and so cannot help but be tarred with its consequences, including a brutal recession.

“But for Fish, there is no actual reality, remember, just post-modern illusions. Which is why the pomo-left and the shameless-right were made for each other.”

“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 No More Mister Nice Blog opined. “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.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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