Sunday, November 30, 2008

Apples and Rotten Oranges: Comparing Carter and Bush the Unready

I first encountered this line of argument in class. My student is a midlife empty nest returning student. Her husband is ex-military and now makes his living working for one of the many defense contractors lining the perimeter of our campus to whom my university, like most others today, have sold their very souls. Her comment came out of the blue and caught me completely off guard: “If we can survive four years of Jimmy Carter, we can survive four years of Obama.” My surprise must’ve been obvious because she immediately followed up that comment with the observation that Jimmy Carter was responsible for the current economic meltdown the country is experiencing. At the time, all I could think of in response was “Huh?”

What I didn’t know was that this was one of the many creative fabrications brought to us by those wonderful folks at Fox “News.” My partner had heard the same thing from his parents in darkest Augusta, Georgia and my own father parroted the same tune at a family dinner. (As my saintly mother used to say, "I don't know why your father has to watch all that stuff.") Given the inability of Fox to deal with the fact that their corporate sponsors, those same wonderful people who brought us Herbert Hoover, had now brought us George “the Unready” Bush with much the same results, it’s not surprising that its talking heads would stretch to find a scapegoat for the abject failures of its current regime. Jimmy Carter will do in a pinch, I suppose. G-d forbid we should ever have to examine closely the disasters wreaked upon the world through the Reaganomics and the clueless Bush the Elder who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag in a grocery store with a scanner who followed candid Jimmy.

This week, a young evangelical Protestant man in Korea began interacting with one of the few remaining listservs on which I still write. (I do try to live into my own maxim which used to be physically taped to the top of my monitor: “Life is too short to argue with stupid people.”) I suppose he is driven by the evangelical compulsion to testify regardless of whether the content of one's message is worth purveying to anyone other than true believers. His contention was that George Bush and Jimmy Carter were both failures as presidents but also good Christians, whatever that means. I guess there was just something about muttering Carter and Bush’s name in the same sentence that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I provide my response below:

In my opinion, George Bush failed as President of the United States.

You don’t have to go too far out on a limb to make this observation. He inherited a budget in surplus and now it’s in the largest debt in US history. The economy is in the worst shape since the Great Depression under his regime which allowed the industry representatives to deregulate every aspect of the economy they could with predictable results. We’re in two wars in two places in the world with little to show for it but ongoing enmity and death and destruction. Mr. Bush should never have been president and in fact was not really elected. History will judge him harshly.

However, he is a good Christian too.

Well, I don’t know that. And you don’t either, actually. George says he’s a Christian and I think we have to take him at his word on that. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a different question. I see very little about George’s life and policies that even hint at Jesus. I do hear a lot of rhetoric that sounds like evangelical Protestantism. Those things may or may not be related.

Same applies to Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Carter had at least twice the IQ of George Bush and half the ego. He dealt with very trying conditions and had the nerve to actually tell the American people the truth about our situation: “We are addicted to foreign oil, it’s going to destroy our economy and our environment. We need to deal with our addiction.” The American people rewarded his candor by electing a washed up B actor named Reagan who promptly ran up the second highest deficits in history, armed most of Central America for a series of catastrophic civil wars and dumped millions of mentally ill people onto our streets while cheerfully declaring “It’s morning in America.”

Sometimes we get the leadership we deserve. Carter was probably too bright and too honest to be president. Reagan reflected our superficiality and our greed. Bush reflects our mediocrity of character and our denial about the end of our privileged empire.

I really think of George Bush and Jimmy Carter as family.

When I meditate on loving my neighbor as myself, I often find it helpful to visualize the people I have most difficulty loving. The two who almost always come to mind for me are George Bush and Osama bin Laden. And for many of the same reasons.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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