Is George Bush a dissident?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Natan Sharansky says he is:

There are two distinct marks of a dissident. First, dissidents are fired by ideas and stay true to them no matter the consequences. Second, they generally believe that betraying those ideas would constitute the greatest of moral failures. Give up, they say to themselves, and evil will triumph. Stand firm, and they can give hope to others and help change the world.

Political leaders make the rarest of dissidents. In a democracy, a leader's lifeline is the electorate's pulse. Failure to be in tune with public sentiment can cripple any administration and undermine any political agenda. Moreover, democratic leaders, for whom compromise is critical to effective governance, hardly ever see any issue in Manichaean terms. In their world, nearly everything is colored in shades of gray.

That is why President George W. Bush is such an exception. He is a man fired by a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its critical connection to international peace and stability. Even the fiercest critics of these ideas would surely admit that Mr. Bush has championed them both before and after his re-election, both when he was riding high in the polls and now that his popularity has plummeted, when criticism has come from longstanding opponents and from erstwhile supporters.

With a dogged determination that any dissident can appreciate, Mr. Bush, faced with overwhelming opposition, stands his ideological ground, motivated in large measure by what appears to be a refusal to countenance moral failure.

I myself have not been uncritical of Mr. Bush. Like my teacher, Andrei Sakharov, I agree with the president that promoting democracy is critical for international security. But I believe that too much focus has been placed on holding quick elections, while too little attention has been paid to help build free societies by protecting those freedoms--of conscience, speech, press, religion, etc.--that lie at democracy's core.

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Dr. Sanity follows the above quote with the following:

Those who persist in portraying Bush as some evil mastermind, the Bushitler etc. etc. etc. who is determined to undermine American democracy and freedom are so far gone with BDS and out of touch with reality that they have lost all perspective and judgment.

Bush certainly has many failings and is by no means perfect. But on the issues of freedom and democracy -- he is a light in the darkness and voice in the wilderness compared to most people who presently identify themselves as "progressives" and "liberals".

President Bush's domestic policies are not particularly brilliant and may even be simplistic and obvious. When you observe President Bush you see what you expect: a normal man muddling along.

Many have accused me of idealizing President Bush, and while it is true that since 9/11 I admire him quite a bit, I hardly idealize him. On the contrary, what I find compelling about him are his obviously ordinary human qualities. He strikes me as a very REAL person--not a slick "persona" created by an ad agency; or a "celebrity" onto whom we project our own fantasies.

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I have mentioned before that I see a comparison between Bush and Truman. David McCullough in his biography Truman made the point that Truman was exactly the kind of man the founding fathers had in mind for the office of the President. That is, he was a real American. He came from the people. Bush had opportunities that Truman never had, he had an education that Truman never had...but I think the trait they had it common would be their genuineness.

There is in both men a depth that one rarely sees in public figures. Perhaps these traits are there in most people and it takes the right circumstances to bring them out..but I am not so sure about that. I think Bush is hated for this reason: he put the progressives to shame and he is in fact what they only pretend to be.

9 comments:

David Thomson said...

I do believe that George W. Bush is a "dissident." Still, it behooves me to point out something else: it is virtually impossible for a Democratic presidential candidate to unhesitatingly champion human rights and democratic values. The Democrats now comprise the party of appeasing wimps. Their party foreign policy platform has been captured by the mindset of the 1960s left. America is supposedly the true threat to world peace and a military response to terrorist activity will almost always backfire. It will only further enrage our nation’s enemies.

terrye said...

david:

Never say never.

Knucklehead said...

A knucklehead like me is on paper-thin ice to disagree with the likes of Nathan Sharanski but I think the man is confusing cause with effect.

Allow me to small alterations to his words:

There are two distinct marks of a man of integrity. First, dissidents are fired by values and stay true to them no matter the consequences. Second, they generally believe that betraying those values would constitute the greatest of moral failures.

Integrity is nothing more than adherence to one's values despite the cost. Integrity is difficult in the face of serious challenges. But it is no guarantor of anything.

I admire President Bush for his integrity to a system of personal values that I believe I can recognize and, in general outline, share. I'd like to imagine that I could display similar integrity were I faced with similar challenges but I have no proof that I would and, to be honest, no great confidence that whatever integrity I've achieved would stand up to the stress that his has endured.

Whatever small cracks and stress fractures may show it is, ultimately, whether or not the structure maintains its integrity that matters.

His dissidence is an effect of President Bush's integrity. If the bulk of us shared most of his values and exhibited similar integrity to them he would not seem a dissident.

Terrye,

Have you read Joseph Ellis' biography of George Washington, His Excellency? I am finishing it now. I grabbed it as an afterthought (in other words on a whim) to serve as a quick read following A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America and The Frontier in American History.

I hadn't expected Ellis' biography of Washington to illimunate for me some of what I'd gained from the other two. But it did.

It is beyond the scope of a comment in a thread, even for a verbose dope like me, but this relates to your comment about Truman and the founding fathers and "Americanism". Perhaps the stuff of a post but...

Knucklehead said...

Oops!

I meant to alter the Sharansky quote as follows:

There are two distinct marks of a man of integrity. First, men of integrity are fired by values and stay true to them no matter the consequences. Second, they generally believe that betraying those values would constitute the greatest of moral failures.

Seneca the Younger said...

Knuck, wouldn't you say that a man of integrity is inevitably going to be seen as a dissident?

Knucklehead said...

StY,

No. The guy at the pulpit may be a man of the highest integrity and his congregation may share, deeply, his values. He won't qualify as a dissident.

One can only be a dissident if one dissents from what some large portion of the population perceives as the CW.

In general, though, people of integrity will quite often be a dissident.

The act of being a dissident does not necessarily require integrity. And integrity itself does not require a value set others would recognize as "moral". Hitler had a set of values and integrity to them. For a time he was a dissident; at least within Germany. I suppose he could be judged a dissident on a global level. When he was no longer a dissident he did away with those who were.

Sharansky is, it seems to me, making the act of dissidence to centrally important here. Sakharov's importance was as a dissident. His sense of values and integrity to them, in a country that violated those values, forced him to be a dissident. If he lived in a world that largely shared his values there would have been no need for him to be a dissident. Unless, of course, the primary value he felt a need to have integrity toward was dissent itself.

Bush's primary importance is his integrity to his values. The fact that the harpies and intelligensia do not share his values makes him, I suppose, a dissident of sorts. But I find that defining Bush in terms of dissent very unsatisfactory.

terrye said...

kuck:

yes I read that bio. I loved it. It taught me a lot.

Syl said...

The reason the Democrats are falling off the edge with their rhetoric and demands of change vis-a-vis Iraq is that they KNOW Bush has integrity and will not waiver from his goals.

So, to Democrats, it's perfectly fine to criticize because as far as they're concerned the criticism won't hurt the war effort--it will just hurt Bush and the Republicans. Bush will see us through Iraq no matter what the Dems say.

Yes, some of the Dems are convinced Bush is wrong. Others are not, but would never admit it. And it is those who know we have to see this through, whether they voted for or against Iraq in the first place, yet who claim we are failing and nitpick every decision to death who are the moral toddlers.

Simply reprehensible.

Seneca the Younger said...

No. The guy at the pulpit may be a man of the highest integrity and his congregation may share, deeply, his values. He won't qualify as a dissident.

No? Not ever? Not even if he's a Catholic priest objecting to capital punishment? Or a Seventh Day Adventist objecting to saying the Pledge of Alligance?

One can only be a dissident if one dissents from what some large portion of the population perceives as the CW.

Disqualifying Jerry Falwell (not that I'm rushing to call him a man of notable integrity) because he thinks gays who act on their sexual orientation are inherently abominable?

Now, your other argument --- that being a dissident doesn't imply integrity --- I can't deny.