Rick Perlstein: Why Supporters of President Bush Love Him No Matter What He Does or Says





Rick Perlstein, in the Village Voice (July 20, 2004):


Here are some things that Christopher Nunneley, a conservative activist in Birmingham, Alabama, believes. That some time in June, apparently unnoticed by the world media, George Bush negotiated an end to the civil war in Sudan. That Bill Clinton is"lazy" and Teresa Heinz Kerry is an"African colonialist." That"we don't do torture," and that the School of the Americas manuals showing we do were"just ancient U.S. disinformation designed to make the Soviets think that we didn't know how to do real interrogations."


Chris Nunneley also believes something crazy: that George W. Bush is a nice guy.


It's a rather different conclusion than many liberals would make. When we think of Bush's character, we're likely to focus on the administration's proposed budget cuts for veterans, the children indefinitely detained at Abu Ghraib, maybe the story of how the young lad Bush loaded up live frogs with firecrackers in order to watch them explode.


Conservatives see it differently.


"He's very compassionate," says Chris, an intelligent man who's open-minded enough to make listening to liberals a sort of hobby."If you look at the way he's bucked the far right: I mean, $15 billion for AIDS in Africa!" He speaks at the church services of blacks, and"you don't fake that. That's not just a photo op."


Of course, two years after Bush made his pledge, only 2 percent of the AIDS money has been distributed (in any event, it will mainly go to drug companies). And appearing earnest in the presence of African Americans has been a documented Bush strategy for wooing moderate voters since the beginning.


So what does a conservative say when such"nice guy" jazz is challenged? Say, when you ask whether a nice guy would invade a country at the cost of untold innocent lives on the shakiest of pretenses? Or, closer to home, whether he would (as Bush did in late 2000) go on a fishing trip while his daughter was undergoing surgery, and use the world's media to mockingly order her to clean her room while he was away? Doesn't signify with Chris."If you're in one camp, the idea of being firm, 'tough love,' is very popular. If you're in another, you can say, 'Well, that's just mean!' On my side, well, I like the whole idea of 'tough love.'"


This is a journey among the"tough love" camp. The people who, even in the face of evidence of his casual cruelty, of his habitual and unchristian contempt for weakness, love George Bush unconditionally: love him when he is tender, love him when he is tough—but who never, ever are tough on him....



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