The Bush Test

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Here’s a conversation-stopper: “George W. Bush.”

Or rather, the mention of the man’s name halts one conversation and ignites another one.  In gatherings with academic friends and colleagues, it has a visceral effect.  I’ve witnessed it time and again as people have talked about the economy or about education or about the Middle East and I recalled No Child Left Behind or the highway/transportation bill or Bush’s disgust with Arafat, always adding the ex-President’s name.

Everything changes—the content and direction of the discussion, the tone of people’s voices, their postures and expressions.  The ordinary back-and-forth of exchange gives way to people’s eagerness to denounce and decry.

For awhile, I responded by invoking this or that fact, mildly raising a bit of evidence to complicate the Bush-was-100-percent-wrong judgment, such as the superiority of Bush’s appointments to the agencies closest to their work (the NEH and NEA).  But when the animus is so strong, facts and qualifiers can’t be heard.  Bush was so contemptible, stupid, heedless, stubborn, anti-intellectual, anti-science, cowboy-ish, and incompetent that any exculpatory point strikes them as a treacherous compromise.

So, now, I opt for the Bush Test.  It’s very simple.  When the discussion slides into a rant and three our four people pile on with one abominable Bush action and trait after another, I say with a smile, “Yes, okay, many mistakes, but let me ask you: Like every U.S. president, Bush did hundreds of things while in office—laws, policies, appointments, budgets . . .—and I wonder which ones you think were correct.”

It draws them up short, and when they pause I add, “Just a couple of things, that’s all.”  Not bad things he failed to do or errors that ended up supporting the other side, but positive actions on his part.

If they can’t come up with anything, the point has been made.  Those judges are either biased partisans or uninformed quibblers.

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