While I was off reading the NYT on health care, the entire liberal blogosphere (& beyond) has been talking about today's NYT interview with Mathew Dowd (who was Bush's 2004 campaign strategist) in which he says roughly, 'Sorry about that whole polarizing-the-country, electing-an-incompetent-disaster thing.'
What are we to make of this?
Steve Benen says that the responses break down into two categories: “Welcome to the reality-based community, Mr. Dowd.” and “Piss off, Matt.”
There are good reasons for both -- the former, because it's good politics; the latter, because Dowd did so much personally to create the very Bush-lead divisiveness which he is now decrying. The first also has an important subset, I think, which is: What took you so bloody long? There's nothing -- nothing -- of a general nature that we now know about Bush that we didn't know very clearly in 2004: the disastrous nature of his war, his authoritarian bent, his divisive style. It was all crystal-clear. The only additional information we now have are the details -- and we'll be getting those for years -- or decades.
But even beyond these two or three responses, it seems to me that there's a crucial fourth response -- one that applies not only to Dowd, but to every Bush-supporter who has since seen the error of their ways (a great many, if polls are to be believed (although not nearly as many as there should be, given the magnitude of the disaster that his presidency has been: a 99% disapproval rating would hardly be sufficient for that.)) This, it seems to me, is the most crucial response of all -- and it's the one we should make not only to Dowd, but to Andrew Sullivan and every other former Bush supporter:
Absolution requires a commitment not to repeat the sin.
It's not enough to know now that Bush is a disaster -- that won't help anyone. What is required -- necessary -- a minimum condition -- for saying you're sorry is a firm commitment not to do it again. Otherwise you're not sorry -- you're just covering your ass, posturing in the face of the massive clusterfuck you enabled.
This is true of every Bush voter, every one of whom has some responsibility for the nightmare that has been inflicted upon our country (and Iraq, and the world). It is many orders of magnitude more powerful in a case like Dowd, who did far, far more than simply vote for this clusterfuck-on-legs.
But what does that mean, not to do it again? It can't simply mean not supporting Bush again: he ain't never running again. If we are to benefit from the lessons of this experience, we need to see the more general lesson:
Bush hasn't been a disaster because he himself personally is corrupt or incompetent or stupid (although he's all three). Bush has been a disaster because of the nature of the contemporary conservative movement and the contemporary Republican party.
Bush's Iraq war came from deep, multiple roots -- neoconservativism, a deep racism and fear of the foreign, an imperial mindset that all of your oil are belong to us, a willingness to use war to score cheap rhetorical or political points. All of those things are deeply embedded in the contemporary conservative movement and the contemporary Republican party.
Bush's divisive politics has roots back to Richard Nixon; his authoritarian presidency, with his willingness to brazenly disobey the law of the land whenever it suits his purpose does too.
The bile against gays and lesbians has become standard fare on the pro-hatred side of the culture wars.
The huge budget deficits come from the Republican party's fanatical commitment to tax cuts, particularly for the rich, combined with a realistic but cynical understanding that none of their 'shrink-government' rhetoric has enough support in this country to get them elected.
The cronyism comes from their belief that government is the problem, which leads to a cynical treatment of it and an inability to do well what it in fact does well.
The denial of reality -- in terms of science and so much more -- has deep roots in the fact that many of the right's cherished policies and beliefs (on the issues of evolution and global warming, say) have simply and plainly been proven wrong -- but that they remain committed to them because of the commitments of their Christianists (evolution) or business allies (global warming).
And on, and on, and on.
Bush's disaster is the disaster of the modern conservative movement and of the contemporary Republican party. It's that simple.
So what does every single Bush-supporter need to do -- not to show they're sorry, but to really be sorry: to do a minimum amount of atonement for the damage they've helped cause?
Not repeat the error.
Don't support conservative candidates until the contemporary conservative movement has fundamentally changed.
Don't support the Republican party until it has fundamentally changed.
A few conservatives have begun to grapple with this. (Since I mentioned him before, I should note that Andrew Sullivan has been one of them.) But there is a long, long way to go.
Anyone who sees what a disaster Bush has been should not support the authoritarian Giuliani, the war-monger McCain nor the Christianist Romeny.
If they do, they haven't really understood why Bush has been a disaster at all.
They've just seen the shit on their shoes -- long after it got there -- and said 'that's not shinola'.
So what should we say to Mathew Dowd -- “Welcome to the reality-based community, Mr. Dowd”? Or, “piss off, Matt”?
Well, if he supports Barak Obama in 2008, as he muses he might in the NYT article -- then I think we should say “Welcome --belatedly -- to the reality-based community, Mr. Dowd.”
But if he doesn't -- if he doesn't begin to do active work to make up for the incredible damage that he, himself, personally did to this country, and the far greater damage that he literally dedicated his life to (in Matt Ygelsias's felicitous phrase), then I think we should say “piss off, Matt”.
And the same to all those who are now decrying the mistakes that they have made.
Absolution requires a commitment not to repeat the sin.
Envoi: You could re-read this entire post, substituting "the Iraqi war" for "the Bush presidency" and "liberal hawks" for "the conservative movement"/"the contemporary Republican party", and it would make an equally valid -- and equally important -- point. If you don't actively want to get us out of Iraq -- if you aren't refusing to abet the possibility of our invading Iran -- then you haven't seen why you were wrong. (Hillary Clinton, who wants to stay in Iraq indefinitely and who remains fundamentally a hawk, is the most important disaster-waiting-to-happen in this category. This is the central reason why she is by far the worst candidate among the various Democratic possibilities at the moment: she would continue -- possibly even expand upon -- the very worst policy of the very worst administration in American history.