Third Party & Independents Archives

Civil Debate and Conspiracy Theories

The consensus is that George W. Bush has become a uniquely divisive president. Recently, there has been a Time article making this point, and many pundits on TV have made that same observation. Yet I believe that it is not Bush that has caused this divisiveness, but that the culprit is the acrimonious, emotion-laden, and conspiracy-driven tenor of contemporary American political debate.

My moment of epiphany came when I went to my local bookstore and looked over at the contemporary politics section. I saw two kinds of books- those who claim that George W. Bush and his immoral, cowboy, corporate driven leadership has caused all of America’s problems; and the same number of books blaming Bill Clinton for compromising our national security and committing several acts of treason along the way. At this moment I took a step back and made a realization I should have made a long time ago- I had been fooled and so have many of you.

I remembered that during the Clinton presidency I listened and talked to those with whom I shared political sympathies, but along with the ideology I got something else- a deep and repeated message about how evil Bill Clinton was. I had long wondered why serious people could take seemingly outlandish accusations against George W. Bush seriously- and now I understood. The forces who dislike George W. Bush do so with the same passion and hate that the other side disliked Clinton with for 8 years- and this hatred has bred a culture within each political affiliation, created around common beliefs, but fed on the tempting mirage that the other side isn’t simply wrong, they are downright evil.

Let me give you a little comparison. Even leaving aside the impeachment-perjury charges, many on the right seriously believe that Bill Clinton sold nuclear secrets to China for campaign contributions, used FBI files to blackmail Republican congressmen, and raped someone,. Meanwhile, a lot of the left seriously believes that George W. Bush invaded Iraq just for oil, conspired with Enron, and actually wanted September 11th to happen, or at least knew about it in advance. This is just a small sampling- I could easily give you dozens of similarly sinister accusations based upon circumstantial evidence against both of these men.

Perhaps you believe that Bill Clinton was a treasonous, rapist and abuser of government power to bribe his political opponents; or you honestly think that Bush led us into war for personal economic interests, conspired in the Enron scandal, and committed the ultimate betrayal of our country on 9-11. I am warning you that you are being duped by your own ideological blinders- as I once was. I will admit that during the 1990s, my disdain for Clinton made me buy into a lot of these theories (at least the China and FBI files charges), and I feel pretty silly looking back on it now. If you are one of these “we went to war for oil” people, you will someday feel silly too- or for your sake, I hope you will. Also ask yourself- what has this partisanship done to the way issues are debated in this country?

Two examples to illustrate this point. Bill Clinton took action in Bosnia that most conservatives should have supported based upon their beliefs. Yet many opposed him because they were in the culture that produced the accusations about giving nuclear secrets to china and digging up FBI files on republican congressmen. Would you trust a person who you believed was selling nuclear secrets to our enemy? Or one that you believed bombed an Aspirin factory in the Sudan to distract the country from Monica-gate?

On the other hand, George W. Bush pushed a Medicare bill that should have made democrats salivate- it was so large that it was supported by the AARP, whose entire function in the world is to get as many goodies as possible for seniors. Sure there were arguments against the bill, but the real reason most democrats fought the bill to its death was the culture of hate for George W. Bush and a distrust for anything he does. After all, Bush is owned by the big corporations, so of course this increase of Medicare that gives so much to seniors that the AARP supports it must somehow be a secret covert plot by this administration.

I am not a supporter of either George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Neither of them furthers a vision on the domestic front that I believe is consistent with the glorious possibilities and ideals of our nation (and, yes, I still believe Bill Clinton was a lousy person and a poor president). But enough is enough- we have now had nearly 10 straight years of conspiracy theories and the politics of personal attack against our presidents- not just in the corners of partisan sects, but in the mainstream of the opposition. We can spend this next election cycle digging through John Kerry’s speech from 30 years ago , or trying to find out exactly where George W. Bush was during his national guard service, and there will be circumstantial evidence for all kinds of conspiracies on both sides. And of course the character of our leaders matters, and those who investigate these accusations are doing an important service- but I will be a lot more careful about what I give credence to and so should you.

We can spend the next 9 months rolling around in the muck of accusations and counteraccusations, or we can have a civil debate in this country about the issues that matter- should the market or the government be the main provider of medicine? should abortion be limited, unlimited or banned? is preemptive war justified (for either self-defense or humanitarian reasons- or only for one of those?)? should we have a more regressive or progressive tax system? should people arrested in the war on terrorism be treated like regular criminals or prisoners of war? These are all serious issues that demand serious discussion- a discussion that will never come when we believe that our opponent’s motives are to betray our country and sell out our people.

Posted by Misha Tseytlin at February 12, 2004 3:08 AM