Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen did a real number on President Bush in his latest column, displaying that soft bigotry of contempt the elitist left often demonstrates for conservatives. In his assumptions of Bush's simplicity and callousness Cohen perhaps reveals traces of his own.
In my view, Cohen's column "Bush's Faith and Swagger Raise Doubts" contains two overarching and related themes. The first is that Bush is intellectually shallow and morally unsophisticated, thus unable to comprehend subtleties and nuance on either level. The second is that his blind faith in God exacerbates his condition.
Cohen begins by relating that he was in the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad just before the outbreak of the "last" Gulf War, when he saw two boys playing in the hall and wondered what would become of them when the war began.
He then says, in barely concealed self-praise, "I suppose such thoughts would make me a bad president." Such thoughts, he asserts, were "sometimes held against President Bill Clinton," as when he was considered "a softie" for remembering the name of an Iraqi civilian woman killed by a stray cruise missile.
The implication is that hard-core, bellicose conservative cowboys typified by Presidents Reagan and Bush have no room for sensitivity in their little pea brains -- even that small left side of it.
I don't know if any right wingers razzed Clinton for allegedly remembering that poor lady's name, but I doubt that very many did. It would be admirable for Clinton actually to care about the fate of such a person, but I doubt that many intuitive people believe someone as conscience-challenged as Mr. Clinton could truly harbor those feelings. "You better put some ice on that," is more his style.
But many liberals, such as Cohen, can't seem to divorce themselves from assessing one's character on the basis of his policy positions -- and the phony pretense to compassion that often accompanies them. If they perceive someone as a fellow liberal, they accord him an irrebuttable presumption of righteousness, even if personally he's a rotten guy.
Conversely, they presume the opposite about genuinely decent people like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush because they perceive them to be political conservatives. Cohen, after portraying Clinton as compassionate, laments, "This is not the case with President Bush ... and that he seems so untroubled is, in itself, troubling." (Bush, the uncompassionate.)
"But this narrowness of focus," says Cohen, "is disquieting because it suggests that Bush does not see the bigger picture," which Cohen describes as the impact of the war on the issues of North Korea and the larger Israeli-Arab conflict. (Bush, the mental midget.)
Cohen also invokes the opinion of Western Europe as the ultimate standard against which we should measure the wisdom of our foreign policy. Western Europe, he observes, senses in Bush's body language and frequent references to God that he's "tone deaf to subtleties and nuances." Sure, Mr. Cohen, we all know that a firm belief in God breeds an acute obtuseness to nuance. That stuff in the Bible about the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom must be laughable to Western European elites.
But Bush's "deep religious belief ... that he has been chosen for the task (to pursue Iraq)" also troubles Cohen, who reminds us that Hitler boasted of having been saved from assassination by "providence." Bush's reliance on "providence,"(note Cohen's unsubtle choice of the very term Hitler used) is "hardly reassuring."
Cohen gratuitously assures us he's not placing Bush in the same category as Hitler. How about just one rung above? After all, in the same paragraph he implies that Bush's determination to exact justice on Saddam renders him unconcerned about any "collateral damage in Baghdad," by which he means the loss of innocent lives.
Cohen, like so many of his liberal colleagues -- I know from my e-mails -- apparently believes that those who are sure that Saddam must be forcibly removed, just as surely lack compassion.
Cohen's arrogance in presuming that Bush (and conservatives in general) is both a simpleton and uncompassionate because of his outward showing of determination to quash the Saddam menace is staggering. And it is with no small degree of irony that Cohen has obviously arrived at these erroneous conclusions with a striking simplicity of analysis, wholly lacking in "nuance."
Cohen is quite wrong about President Bush and conservatives in general. There is no incompatibility between moral clarity and intellectual firepower, between faith in God and humility -- in fact, they're mutually dependent, between a strong conviction that we must go to war and an abundant compassion for any that may die as a result, and between political conservatism and personal decency. Open your mind to nuance, Mr. Cohen, and you'll see the light.