Whom Can the Intellectuals Hate after Bush?

In Denmark, as really most elsewhere in the world, the media are keeping close tabs on the US presidential election – passing on the polling numbers to their audiences, looking for that special insight that might provide a clue about what is likely to happen on Election Day. Of a piece with this is the latest US election coverage from Viggo Lepoutre Ravn of Denmark’s Jyllandsposten (A former Bush-advisor: We have lost). That former advisor is David Frum, actually a former presidential speech-writer, whose comments from an appearance on CNN are quoted to the effect (because this is a translation from the Danish back into English) of “We have to look it in the eye, that we [presumably meaning the Republicans] cannot win the presidential election. We have to concentrate on saving as many of our Senators as possible.” Accompanying this account in Ravn’s article is the news that Obama has now gone ten percentage points clear of McCain in the latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll, plus some electoral strategy analysis. (McCain’s only hope is somehow to win one large-population state that it now seems he will lose, etc., etc. – but we don’t need to occupy ourselves with that stuff, since either Ravn assuredly doesn’t know what he’s talking about or you and I have already read such an analysis, in English, somewhere else.)

No, it’s Jyllandsposten’s Niels Lillelund who gets into a more in-depth discussion of American electoral matters in an accompanying article entitled Farwell to Bush – whom will the intellectuals hate now?.

This piece is really an interview with the figure Lillelund chose for his token American intellectual, namely Colin Harrison, an editor of both fiction and non-fiction at the New York publishing-house Scribner, as well as both a fiction and non-fiction author himself. The choice seems to be pretty good, and not only on the basis of what we can all agree is Harrison’s “pointy-headed” profession. It also turns out that there is not a single Republican in Harrison’s entire circle of friends and, what is more, among those strictly non-Republican friends, a great number departed from his Election Night 2004 party in tears over the result.

Lillelund poses his most important question first: So who will you guys hate after Bush is finally gone? Simple. President Obama is going to have a lot of serious messes to clean up, a lot of grave problems to solve. Most will wish him well, but some will not – those latter we will not like.

Harrison goes on to offer some interesting insights as to how Bush managed to achieve that eight-year run in the first place. In his view, the picture of John Kerry in his windsurfing outfit that appeared on the front page of the New York Times back in August, 2004 (i.e. during the presidential contest between Kerry and Bush; that very same photo is conveniently shown off to the side) was a decisive mistake. Kerry’s handlers actively maneuvered to get such a picture placed so prominently, as they thought it would advance their candidate’s image as vigorous, powerful – as a sportsman. What they didn’t figure out is that everyone knows that windsurfing is a sport only for the rich, who can afford the equipment and the airfare to suitable beaches where you can do it, and who have the time away from the nine-to-five job to indulge in it. Such an image of “elitism” is something that always goes down poorly with the American electorate.

At an even more profound level, he also offers a commentary on current cultural divides in American society (in response to a request to expound upon “the intellectual’s role in the USA today”). “The USA is like a pagan kingdom, and what do I mean by that? We are a celebrity culture, with 200-300 in front, who come and go. We cherish them, but we also love it when they destroy themselves and yield their place to new figures.” Furthermore, it is true that different cultural enclaves exist within American society; people generally just stay within their group, and unthinkingly hold to the beliefs and value-system that membership within that group brings with it.

Still, Harrison claims to see clear signs that disgust with George W. Bush as president has succeeded in spreading across these cultural boundaries. “I believe,” he maintains, ” that a whole bunch of people will get very drunk when Bush leaves. We have looked forward to that day. . . . But when that day comes, so what? Bush is gone, but we have the same problems.” Ah, but you wouldn’t have all those same problems, Lillelund suggests, if you only had back all the money that Bush used – his verb is actually “used” (brugt), rather than “wasted” – in Iraq. Nah, replies Harrison, even if we had had all that money to use for better things – schools, infrastructure, etc. – we wouldn’t have done it. American politics is simply that way. Anyway, he concludes, remember: McCain could still come through and win this thing.

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