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.
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.
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.