The Bush Brand Con’t

Christopher Hayes

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Several people have told me they don't understand why attacking the Bush brand and the Bush product are mutually exclusive. Why can't Kerry do both? Let me clarify. I don't think they are mutually exclusive in any logical sense: one can, with perfect logical consistency, say the president is an asshole and also a purveyor of disastrous policies. But the two lines of attack are somewhat mutually exclusive pragmatically, there's only a limited amount of time left in the campaign and every day spent hammering the Bush brand (his personality) is time spent drawing the focus away from the Bush product (his policies.)However, Josh Marshall today has a fantastic post in which he offers a way of integrating attacks on the brand and the product into a cohesive whole. The key, says Marshall, is to portray Bush as a moral coward, someone who when faced with a difficult situation that requires integrity will always take the easy way out.I've said several times over recent days that it is an example of the president's moral cowardice that he has such a long record of having others savage his opponents -- for sins of which he is usually more guilty than they -- and then denying any responsibility for what's happening. It's like the moment captured in that recent Kerry campaign spot where John McCain tells Bush to stand by his attacks or apologize, and the now-president is painfully caught off guard, bereft of the protective phalanx of retainers.He's not used to having to stand behind what he's done. And when McCain comes at him one on one he's jelly. His life has always been a matter of others doing his dirty work for him, others bailing him out. And in that moment it shows.The current debate about these two men's military service has put the spotlight on physical courage. But that really is a side issue in this campaign, if we're talking substance. The real issue isn't physical bravery but moral cowardice.…A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what's right when it's not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.As I've been saying here for the last couple days, the issue isn't that Bush ducked service in Vietnam. It's that he tries to smear other people's meritorious service without taking responsibility for what he's doing. He gets other people to do his dirty work for him. Again, that image of McCain calling him on his shameless antics and his look of fear, his look of feeling trapped.The key for the Kerry campaign to make is that the president's moral cowardice is why we're now bogged down in Iraq. It's a key reason why almost a thousand Americans have died there. President Bush has set the tone for this administration and his moral cowardice permeates it.Consider only the most obvious examples.The president didn't think he could convince the public of the merits of his reasons for going to war. So he lied to them. He greatly exaggerated what was thought to be the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and completely manufactured a connection between Iraq and al Qaida. He couldn't get the country behind him on the up-and-up. So he took the easy way out; he took a shortcut; he deceived them. And now the country is paying a terrible price for it.He and his advisors knew that if they levelled with the public about the costs of war -- in dollars, years, soldiers -- he'd have a very hard time convincing them. So he didn't level with them. He took the easy way out.The sort of forward planning that would have made a big difference in post-war Iraq was scuttled or attacked because it would make the job of selling the war harder. Those who sounded the alarm had their careers cut short.Once we were in Iraq and it was clear that we had been wrong about the weapons of mass destruction -- a judgement that's been clear for more than a year -- he wouldn't admit it. And he still hasn't. A year and a half after we invaded Iraq and he still can't level with the American people about this. He still relies on his vice president to try to fool people into thinking Hussein was tied to al Qaida and the 9/11 attacks.More importantly, once it became clear that the president's plans for post-war Iraq were producing poor results, he refused to shift policy or to reshuffle his team. He refused to demand accountability from his own team because of how it would have reflected on him. He's preferred to continue on with demonstrably failed policies because to do otherwise would be to admit he'd made a mistake and open himself to all the political fall-out that entails. And that's not something he's willing to do.The stubborn refusal ever to change course, which the president tries to pass off as a sign of leadership or devotion to principle, is actually an example of his cowardice.For the same reasons, he runs from soldiers' funerals like they were burying victims of the plague -- because it's the easy way out. If there's a problem, he denies it or finds someone else to take the fall for him.Everyone has these tendencies in their measure. No one is perfect. But they define George W. Bush.

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Christopher Hayes is the host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. He is an editor at large at the Nation and a former senior editor of In These Times.
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