Bush, and the "Evil Other"
By Diane E. Dees
used to have five cats in our household, and they got along
quite peaceably, despite their differences. They ate, played
and snuggled together. But on occasion, a neighborhood cat
or a raccoon would wander over to our deck. When our cats
saw the "enemy" through the French door glass, they would
get worked up into a frenzy of aggression. Since they could
not get through the glass to attack the intruder, they would
attack each other, fighting, spitting, hissing, and growling,
until we had to separate them.
Of course, the visiting animal wasn't really an enemy, nor
could it cause any harm. But our cats perceived a threat,
and their neurology took over.
It is that way in America, thanks to Ronald Reagan and George
W. Bush. To say this is not to imply that America does not
have enemies; our enemies are very real and do wish us harm.
Reagan and Bush, however, have successfully exploited our
fears to the extent that we have to attack something, and
that something is each other.
Though many people like to say "Bush is no Reagan" (and
he isn't), the similarities between them are so significant
that they define an entire strategy for moving the country
farther and farther right. Like Reagan, Bush has sprayed the
air with enough testosterone to affect the national neurology,
and the results, though ugly, are not nearly as damning of
Reagan and Bush as they are of the national character.
Consider the results of Reagan's first term. In 1983, the
economy was in deep trouble because of the president's failed
supply-side economics program of deeply cutting taxes while
raising defense spending. At that time, 81% of Americans said
that the economy was the most important issue of the upcoming
election. 42% said they had been hurt by Reaganomics, and
only 17% said they had been helped. It should have been easy
to defeat an incumbent who had created such an economic mess.
Granted, Mondale never took advantage of the many weaknesses
in Reagan's campaign, but even then, it is extraordinary that
Reagan not only won the 1984 election, but won it by a memorable
landslide. This is what he did: he told the nation that "America
Is Strong Again," a reference to the perception that America
had been weak under President Carter. He sold the country
on the idea that he was delivering freedom to Nicaragua by
arming the contras, and that the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's
leader at the time, must be crushed.
During the 80's, the image of the fatwa-creating Ayatollah
was frightening to all Americans. In 1983, with the Iran-Iraq
war escalating, Reagan removed Iraq from the list of countries
that supported terrorism, and sent Middle East envoy Donald
Rumsfeld to give the good news to Saddam Hussein. At the time,
Saddam was already known to be using chemical weapons, but
the philosophy of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" prevailed,
as it so often does.
The images of Reagan protecting freedom in Latin America
and protecting the homeland from the Ayatollah were enhanced
by repeated images of the president as a cowboy. Ads showed
him on his ranch, riding horses and chopping wood, a manly
man who could bring America back from its alleged demise.
Reagan used this image of patriarchy and Old West machismo
to address domestic issues, also. During his campaign, he
declared he would not support ratification of the Equal Rights
Amendment, and his opposition effectively killed it. Once
elected, he set about dismantling the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission in a particularly nasty way: He appointed a right-wing
minority bureaucrat (Clarence Thomas) to turn the commission
into a mere shadow of its former self, with significantly
less power to help those who faced job discrimination. It
was Reagan who popularized the term "welfare queen," and it
was Reagan who kept apartheid South Africa as a close ally.
In fairness to Reagan, there is nothing wrong with calling
government oversized and inefficient. There is nothing wrong
with cutting social programs, as he did, if you have a more
efficient plan for replacing wasteful programs. In fact, doing
so would have been a virtue. But Reagan didn't have such a
plan; he just did the cutting, then wondered why the African
American community was against him.
As governor of California, Reagan already had a reputation
for harshly squelching campus free speech. As a Hollywood
actor, he couldn't stop naming names to the McCarthy Commission.
If Reagan stood for anything, he stood for anti-Communism
and all that that has come to imply in conservative America:
Speak out against the party line, and you are "one of them."
It was during the Reagan administration that this theory
coalesced most dramatically, with the help of Jerry Falwell's
ironically named Moral Majority: African Americans, feminists,
gays, civil rights workers - anyone looked down on by "real"
Americans - became the enemy. "Commies," "queers," "welfare
queens" and "liberals" were not an ocean away in some strange
desert land or behind an Iron Curtain, they were right in
your neighborhood, and once you got all worked up into a frenzy,
you could have a go at them.
Reagan had his Evil Empire, Bush has his Axis of Evil. This
is not a coincidence. The entire purpose of creating an Evil
Entity is to carve the image of "The Other." Once
this image has been firmly established, it is easy to construct
add-ons. "You're either with us or against us." Using the
resulting flawed syllogism, if you oppose the war in Iraq,
then you are "with" Saddam Hussein. If you speak against
the president during wartime, you are "against" America. Oh,
how easy it is to divide the nation into Good and Evil, and
while you're at it, don't forget the queers, feminists and
welfare queens - they're still the enemy, too.
Bush has taken patriarchy to new heights, also. After September
11, he cast himself as the stern father figure who would exact
revenge on the terrorists, guard America's spirit, and protect
the nation from its enemies. The tragedy is that people fell
for this play-acting, and the result was the Patriot Act.
In 2002, a shocking 49% of Americans believed that the First
Amendment "goes too far." Now we have the trashing of art
exhibits, the firing of teachers and professors, the implementation
of "free speech" zones, and more death threats than can be
Even more frightening is that - in the face of a war based
totally on deception, a cuddly relationship with deeply repressive
Saudi Arabia (who gave us most of the September 11 terrorists),
and the abandonment of the victims of both the Taliban and
the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan - Americans still consider
Bush to be the person best suited to "fight terrorism."
He is certainly suited to fight progressive government,
which seems to be good enough. Using extreme Christian Right
yahoos as "consultants," he has waged an unprecedented war
on women's reproductive rights, and he has carried that war
to the far corners of the world, even slyly using it to sabotage
his own AIDS program. He has attempted to appoint federal
judges whose entire careers have been defined by their contempt
for women's rights and civil rights. And just like when he
was governor of Texas, he has made a special mission of defeating
Bush, like Reagan, is giving people what they want - permission
to hate an enemy, and to define that enemy as broadly as possible.
Like Reagan, Bush puts on his jeans, goes to the Crawford
Ranch and hacks away at the brush, or puts on a flight suit
and presents his pelvis to the viewing public. It is all about
testosterone, the Old West, and fighting off the perceived
threat to "American values," about which (if we use the Constitution
as a guideline), Bush and his adoring masses don't have a
But "perceived" is the key word here. America, beware: the
raccoon is at the door, and if you can't go out there and
whip its ass, you can at least find some available Americans
to spit at and stick your claws in.