There are two distinct marks of a dissident. First, dissidents are fired by ideas and stay true to them no matter the consequences. Second, they generally believe that betraying those ideas would constitute the greatest of moral failures. Give up, they say to themselves, and evil will triumph. Stand firm, and they can give hope to others and help change the world.
Political leaders make the rarest of dissidents. In a democracy, a leader's lifeline is the electorate's pulse. Failure to be in tune with public sentiment can cripple any administration and undermine any political agenda. Moreover, democratic leaders, for whom compromise is critical to effective governance, hardly ever see any issue in Manichaean terms. In their world, nearly everything is colored in shades of gray.
That is why President George W. Bush is such an exception. He is a man fired by a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its critical connection to international peace and stability. Even the fiercest critics of these ideas would surely admit that Mr. Bush has championed them both before and after his re-election, both when he was riding high in the polls and now that his popularity has plummeted, when criticism has come from longstanding opponents and from erstwhile supporters.
With a dogged determination that any dissident can appreciate, Mr. Bush, faced with overwhelming opposition, stands his ideological ground, motivated in large measure by what appears to be a refusal to countenance moral failure.
I myself have not been uncritical of Mr. Bush. Like my teacher, Andrei Sakharov, I agree with the president that promoting democracy is critical for international security. But I believe that too much focus has been placed on holding quick elections, while too little attention has been paid to help build free societies by protecting those freedoms--of conscience, speech, press, religion, etc.--that lie at democracy's core.
Those who persist in portraying Bush as some evil mastermind, the Bushitler etc. etc. etc. who is determined to undermine American democracy and freedom are so far gone with BDS and out of touch with reality that they have lost all perspective and judgment.
Bush certainly has many failings and is by no means perfect. But on the issues of freedom and democracy -- he is a light in the darkness and voice in the wilderness compared to most people who presently identify themselves as "progressives" and "liberals".
President Bush's domestic policies are not particularly brilliant and may even be simplistic and obvious. When you observe President Bush you see what you expect: a normal man muddling along.
Many have accused me of idealizing President Bush, and while it is true that since 9/11 I admire him quite a bit, I hardly idealize him. On the contrary, what I find compelling about him are his obviously ordinary human qualities. He strikes me as a very REAL person--not a slick "persona" created by an ad agency; or a "celebrity" onto whom we project our own fantasies.
Nor is he a professional opportunist (who was against the war before he was for it and then against it again)--i.e., someone who believes whatever is necessary to get votes.
Bush does not pretending to be intellectually superior and can easily make fun of himself. Nor does it seem to matter much to him that everyone doesn't totally adore him. He tackles hard problems head on (which most politicians lack the courage to do) and perseveres in trying to fix them. He indeed "muddles along", misspeaks, and even screws up from time to time; but he presses on and actually gets things done.
With Bush, WYSIWYG. With John Kerry what you see today has nothing to do with what you will see tomorrow. Some will say that shows Kerry is "flexible" and "nuanced". I suggest that it shows that Kerry has a moral compass that only points in one direction--toward John Kerry. Bush thinks for himself; Kerry thinks of himself.
Certainly, no one is obligated to love or admire any US President. People have a right to dislike anyone they choose, including the POTUS. But the hatred of this president goes far beyond anything we have ever seen or recorded. And why? Because he is real; because he takes a stand; and because he dares to believe in something as politically uncorrect as the universality of the human desire for freedom.
And that is what will give him a well-deserved place in human history.
I'm sure that drives the deranged Bush haters nuts.