Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Religion of Politics

"Bush or Kerry?" I asked a lecturer from the US not too long ago.

"Kerry" he declared without any hesitation.


"Bush is stupid."

He's certainly not the only one who thinks that way. Reading the news, commentaries, political blogs, even blogs by Singaporeans, one cannot avoid the impression that Bush is somewhat of a nincompoop.

But some months ago, soon after Kerry's presidential ambitions became full-blown, I read in a Newsweek article comparing the president and the hopeful. Both were in Yale, both were in Skull and Bones. I also found out later that Bush is the only US president to have an MBA (his was from Harvard), and the only one to have CEO experience.

That's when I started wondering - are we hearing the whole story?

I voiced my thoughts to a rather insightful friend yesterday, when it became clear that Bush was likely to win. The conversation went something like this:

"How come we in Singapore keep hearing that Bush is dumb and all, and we believe it, when some other facts indicate that maybe he's really not that dumb? Somehow we hardly hear from the Bush-supporters, even though it's clear now that there are so many of them."

I further commented, "I know people who are clearly pro-Kerry, as well as who are strongly pro-Bush, and there's no way you could convince those pro-Kerry guys to vote Bush, and vice versa, no matter what the evidence." Think the Iraqi quagmire.

"Well, politics is sometimes like religion. People don't always go by the evidence."

He's right.

I've engaged in a good number of religious debates, and what I've come to realise is that logic and evidence is almost never enough to change the view of the religionist (including atheists etc), and if I probe deeper, the reason for the believer's belief is almost always profoundly personal.

The same with the strongly pro-Bush and pro-Kerry people. I remember watching BBC after the first Presidential Debate. The Bush people thought Bush had won, and the Kerry people thought that Kerry was clearly the winner. The BBC commentator couldn't commit.

Religion or politics, humans have this ability to hear and remember what they want to hear, and forget what they don't.

Bush is stupid.



Blogger Bubblemunche said...

I concur ;)

12:58 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Bush is a comedian, he just doesn't know it, yet...

6:07 PM  
Blogger Popagandhi said...

While Bush's level of intelligence or lack thereof is not something I am optimistic about, that's not the whole point. It counts for something, but not entirely.

I am deeply fearful of a Bush presidency because if his first 4 years is any indication of what is about to come, I'm afraid, there isn't much hope to grasp onto. In 4 years, he has needlessly polarised America - Left and Right, Dem and Republican, Infidel and Supposedly Patriotic, Weak and Strong. This entire presidency has been about catering to the primordial instincts of the American people: themes including Good and Evil, vengeance, national security, the "homosexual agenda" and the "atheist agenda" and the pressing need to defend against these threats to "American values" - where anybody not with them on this, American or not, is necessarily "anti-American" and/or "activist" and/or "wants to ban the Bible".. is it starting to sound like a bad dream yet?

And for that, I would say he is not completely a nincompoop, unlike what you suggest most opposition towards him arises from. It makes him slightly less so, but still one (though one can still argue his being less of a nincompoop is due to the political smarts of people like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes).

This election was never as clear-cut as "pro-Bush" and "pro-Kerry". These two people were only the manifestations of various sets of ideals, beliefs, different ways of wanting to shape the world. My problem with Bush lies in the twin areas of "Empire" and "Morality". The first has been elaborated upon much, and people who already believe in one side of the story of Empire will not be swayed further by reason or rhetoric. "Morality", however - appears to be the guiding hand of this administration. Bush appears to believe God speaks to him. Dismantling AIDS funding to the African states currently caught up in the epidemic, and insisting the only way he will return that to them is by pushing through programs of abstinence rather than condom use; making up crazy "Bush science" in domestic affairs regarding abortion/premarital sex. It isn't religion anymore. Even if it were, he has taken the faith I (and many others) hold dear, and twisted it into a terrible dream.

And that is possibly the one thing I can never forgive him for.

1:00 AM  
Blogger A said...

I agree with what Adri said. Anyway, I don't think it's about people like us ignoring the facts that Bush may be smarter than we like to think. Four years in office as American President has provided sufficient evidence that he probably isn't. An MBA from Harvard does not a good President make.

Adri pointed out that it's not so much about wanting Kerry to win, but more like not wanting Bush to. And the fact is that America needs a new President to turn around prejudices in the Middle East. Bush is seen as a Muslim hater. Kerry will at least offer America a new start in that area; he can build new bridges with the Arab leaders, who can definitely embrace him more willingly than Bush (without turning away their own people), even if Islamic fundamentalists probably still won't.

Neither do I agree with him on moralising certain issues. But I won't go into that. For me, the opportunity to change Arab opinion is reason enough to vote Kerry in, if nothing else. The world may face a recession if Kerry comes in and reins in the economy with his protectionist stance, but the world stands to lose much more if the Arab-America polarity remains for another four years.

1:28 AM  
Blogger calm one said...

Thanks all for the comments.

Actually I personally don't think that Bush is stupid, although my post certainly gives that impression.

But indeed, as Adri pointed out very insightfully, the polarisation of America is a very worrying trend. Here's an email that Andrew Sullivan received:"I am a 25 year-old gay man, and I can't even describe how saddened I am today by the re-election of President Bush and the numerous state amendments banning gay marriage that were passed on election day. I'm not really angry... just very sad and afraid. I don't know what country I live in anymore. I thought this was the land of freedom. I thought I was free to pursue my own happiness. But right now I feel like my country hates me. What is going on?"

While the guy's concern is focused on gay rights, his fears reflect many of ours, be it on big issues or small ones.

But I have come to a point where I avoid making too many judgements relating to politics. (This is why my post was merely an observation on the almost-religious fervour of the strong supporters of either side.) When it comes to politics, I've come to realise that there are too many unknowns operating behind the scenes, too much disinformation, and what we learn from the media is almost always never the complete picture (nor the complete truth). We do not have access to the reports on the president's desk every morning. We don't know about the secret agreements between governments that are happening all the time. We do not know why Bush makes certain decisions. But if we were in his position, I'm certain that many of us would make the same decisions in many cases (but certainly not all). I'm not defending Bush now, just trying to keep an open mind.

Whether the future is nauseating or not, let's leave some room for optimism. Sullivan writes:"My main fear with a Kerry victory was that the hard right would never have given him a chance in the war, and would have savaged him as commander-in-chief in order to pave the way for a victory in 2008. Ratcheting the country back to fiscal sanity would also have been a thankless task. Now, Bush will face the consequences of his own policies and we will be able to judge him on that. He has no excuses any more. I hope he succeeds in Iraq, in reforming social security. But no one should give him an easy pass if he fails. "

10:19 AM  
Blogger Bubblemunche said...

Interesting discourses by everyone.

Personally, and despite my personal preference for that ketchup guy, I believe S'pore will be better off with Bush at the helm. Think about the FTA. I wish I'm more of an idealist than a realist, but reality sucks.

By the way, if you've been following Time, Andrew Sullivan is openly gay. There're like tonnes of what I feel is biased columns by him, and some republican dude in that mag and over the internet.

12:03 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Sullivan has his biases, but he has good insights too at times. I believe he has HIV too.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Preetam said...

Couple of interesting post by Tim Boucher at Occult Investigator.

He talks about the role of "Angry White Male" in re-electing Bush.

He follows it up with a post titled "How Sex Determined the Election"

Also, I think the polarisation is not something new. Even when Reagan was around. it was the same. The only difference perhaps is that those days we did not have blogs etc. and people living outside the US cared a bit lesser about American politics. Another older example was president Woodrow Wilson who actively promoted segregation by discouraging blacks in federal appointments. One of the nastiest thing he did was to support (even allowing a White House Screening) of DW Griffith's anti-black movie "The Birth of a Nation". This was the movie that idolised the Ku Klux Clan famous. Just like Mr. Bush he intervened in Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti sowing the seeds of anti-Americanism. And Wilson was a Democrat.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Popagandhi said...

To the above comment about Sullivan's being openly gay and implied bias - I must remind you that Sullivan also happens to be a staunch conservative (in all areas other than gay rights/marriage), and backed the war, though now repentant.

I don't think his gayness ever, for a moment, misrepresented or obscured his essays through bias - the man tells it like it is. Most of the time. Is he 'biased'? You bet he is. But in no way more than any straight journalist - they have different concerns, that's all. Sometimes I feel many people call for bias because of some amount of discomfort (deliberate or not) at the openness of gay people in high places, and how much they focus on drawing attention to their cause.

I may not agree with Sullivan on many issues: but he's done an impeccable job on gay rights/marriage.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Bubblemunche said...

Dear Popagandhi

With regards to your statement, “… his gayness ever, for a moment, misrepresented or obscured his essays through bias….”, I refer you to the rather public spats between him and Pat Buchanan, exchanged vehemently through each other’s columns. I hardly think these occurences are a show of ‘impartiality in journalism’, a term which I personally feel is an oxymororn.

Having said all that, I’ll be the first to admit that I hardly qualify to make an intellectual stand on the writings of the conservative Andrew Sullivan (he’s Republican, by the way), much less the US Presidential Elections. For goodness’ sake, the highest academic qualification I can lay claim to is a mere diploma in tourism management (of all disciplines), which is surely insignificant compared to the Ph.D. in political science by the esteemed Sullivan.


11:55 AM  
Blogger calm one said...

I think Preetam might be right that the polarisation is nothing new; I was just thinking about it this morning. And I'm optimistic because I believe that the general direction that the US is heading is still the right one.

And whether one has a PhD in political science or Dip in tourism mgt is really not relevant - let's not fall into the typical Singaporean paper-equals-merit fallacy.

I respect Sullivan because of his intellectual rigour in general. "In general" because, while pointing out fallacies of others, he has also committed a good number of his own, but those have normally been minor and thus have discounted little from the main thrust and validity of his arguments.

But I also detect some gay-motivated bias in some of his writings (although I haven't read too much of his works). His biases seem to be on the subconscious level as I believe he makes a genuine attempt to be fair.

Anyway I'm not ready to back up my statements about him, at least not here (don't ask me why - weird reasons). If anyone really wants to interact with me on that, email me.

p.s. I'm straight, but I'm tolerant of gays, as long as the male ones keep their hands off my butt! =)

12:58 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Maybe I'll think about exploring queerness in NP (since this blog is supposed to be about life at NP) in a later post (if I can find any)...

1:03 PM  
Blogger Bubblemunche said...

Well said, calm.

Oh, I'm straight, but gay-tolerant too ;)!

1:21 PM  
Blogger A said...

Maybe a bit of a digression here, but I wonder how many among us who are pro-homosexuality/gay-tolerant (whatever you like to call it) are also pro-abortion?

Would be a nice social experiment to find out, you reckon?

9:54 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Digression? heh...
What I'm wondering about is a gay's view on abortion =)
It's almost like me and my buddy when we were in pri 2 furiously debating over Ferrari vs Lamborghini - totally inconsequential.
Or maybe it's more like Singaporeans arguing over Bush vs Kerry - inconsequential on the surface, but with deep implications...

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

adrian said...
Adri pointed out that it's not so much about wanting Kerry to win, but more like not wanting Bush to.

That's exactly why Kerry lost. People saw him as an entity relative to Bush, not as an entity of his own.

If the choice has been 'Vote Bush In' or 'Vote Bush Out', then more people who would make the former choice will turn out to vote than people who'd make the latter choice. That's also why the Idol competitions have people vote their favorites in, and not vote the bad ones out.

3:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home