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Richard Cohen

Purple and Proud of It

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, September 16, 2004; Page A31

LOS ANGELES -- I live in a state of my own. It is not blue, which is to say anti-Bush. And it is not red, long the color of lefties, commies and the like but now somehow the color of reactionaries -- the GOP and zealous partisans of the president. My own state of mind combines some of the blue with some of the red to produce my own political hue. Color me purple.

It is not the purple of rage or the purple of royalty, and it contains a lot more blue than it does red. I was only briefly enamored of George W. Bush, whom I now consider to be a divider, not a uniter, and who went to war in Iraq for stated reasons that turned out to be baseless and for unstated reasons that have yet to be publicly acknowledged. I am referring here to an entire neoconservative foreign policy agenda in which violence plays too prominent and casual a role. I am also chilled by assertions of near-royal power in handling terrorism suspects, and I do not like Bush's choice of judges, his energy policy, his unilateralism or the manner in which he has intruded religion into politics. I'm looking pretty blue, no?

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I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush or, as someone here told me, to consider his possible reelection as a reason to leave the country. In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue, pushing me by revulsion into a color I otherwise would not have. For instance, I have just read Nicholson Baker's novel "Checkpoint," an audacious and repellent work about whether the assassination of Bush would be warranted. What concerns me is not one man's loss of perspective but the milieu, the zeitgeist, that produced it. Lots of people must have told Baker he had a capital idea -- a book that just had to be published -- and with alacrity. He was Paul Revere in print.

I bump into these anti-Bush alarmists all the time. Recently an extremely successful and erudite man I much admire told me he viewed the upcoming election as something akin to September 1939, the time when World War II started and, among other things, European Jewry was all but snuffed out. I add that bit about the Holocaust because the man I was talking to had been born a European Jew. I could hardly believe my ears.

This is not the place to examine why Bush is so hated by some people, though the war in Iraq surely takes pride of place. But even before that particular war, I heard people denounce the one in Afghanistan, that Taliban-controlled horror that harbored Osama bin Laden. These people are infected with a corrosive doubt about their own country. A recent Pew Research Center poll found, for instance, that 51 percent of Democrats agreed with the proposition that "U.S. wrongdoing" contributed to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (only 17 percent of Republicans agreed). Those are astounding numbers, an indictment not really of America (for what?) but of those people who compulsively blame their own country for the faults of others. You can believe that U.S. support of Israel and the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, but the term Pew used was "wrongdoing." In this respect, these people and Osama bin Laden are in agreement.

The demonization of Bush is going to cost John Kerry plenty if it hasn't already. It so overstates the case against Bush that a levelheaded listener would be excused for thinking that there isn't one in the first place. It squeezes the middle, virtually forcing moderates to pick which bunch of nuts they're going to join. It's hard to know whom to loathe more -- religious zealots who would censor my reading and deny me the fruits of stem cell research or fervid hallucinators who belittle Saddam Hussein's crimes (or even Sept. 11) and wonder, in the throes of perpetual adolescence, whether the assassination of the president would not amount to a political mercy killing. It's all pretty repugnant.

But some of us cherish moderation, recoil from conspiracy theories and would like, if possible, to stick to the facts. We may dislike Bush's policies, but we do not vitriolically hate the man, think he stole the election or blame our own country for the crimes of Sept. 11. We are the proud Purples -- once the royal color, now the tattered banner of common sense.

cohenr@washpost.com


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